Is science and technology the answer?

I have always wondered why in Malawi we have not made science and technology a major development issue. I know that we have a Ministry of Education, Science and Technology but, seriously, science and technology is beyond academic subjects.

Science and technology should not be an appendix to one of the biggest ministry in the country. Dealing with primary and secondary education is already a major undertaking. Perhaps that is why when one visits the website of the ministry, one is greeted by a vision statement that does not mention technology.

The ministry’s vision is “for the education sector to be a catalyst for socio-economic development, industrial growth and instrument for empowering the poor, the weak and voiceless. Education enhances group solidarity, national consciousness and tolerance of diversity. In essence, the sector wishes to ensure better access and equity, relevance and quality and good governance and management in all institutions from basic education to higher education.”

Even the mission itself does not clearly demonstrate the role science and technology plays in development. The ministry’s mission is to provide quality and relevant education to the Malawian nation. Such education should enable people to acquire relevant knowledge, skills, expertise and competencies to perform effectively as citizens, workforce and as leaders of Malawi, thereby reducing poverty among the people of Malawi. There is need to begin to acknowledge that science and technology can indeed make a difference to our country.

Developments in science and technology have fundamentally changed the way people live, connect, communicate and transact and in the process making the citizens able to enhance their livelihood and, in addition, contribute positively to economic development. These types of benefits can only be possible if the country invests in quality education for youths and continuous skills training for all levels of management.

The role that science and technology plays in development is so huge that deliberate efforts need to be made by the nation to prioritise efforts that should support the technological and scientific advances. Over the years, the role that science and technology has played in advancing health systems, education and infrastructure is immense. In fact, instead of saying that, in Malawi, the engine of growth is the private sector, I would propose that we begin to embrace the mantra that technology is the engine of economic growth.

For Malawi, the potential of technology is there; the talent is there; what is lacking is a strategic direction that puts technology at the centre of development and not on the peripheral. Over the years, the country has witnessed an increase in the lack of skilled labour as well as capital; the product of this combination is inefficient production. The nation has almost the same human capital as other developed countries. In fact, Malawi’s population is more than that of Belgium and yet Malawi produces less than Belgium. The main reason for this huge difference in productivity is not due to lack of educated labour alone but the inability to adopt and adapt technologies to raise productivity. Adopting appropriate technologies leads directly to higher productivity, which is the key to growth.

Indeed, countries that have dedicated themselves to increasing their stock of knowledge and have nurtured and deliberately encouraged creativity and technological innovat ion exper ienced sustained growth over long periods. While those countries that have not amassed massive stocks of knowledge, bright and creative people have struggled to improve the lives of their citizens.

Malawi should start to create incentives to encourage those that are technologically gifted and should also allocate resources in a way and manner that encourage research and development. One of the ways to ensure future success for the country is to increase its abilities to innovate and learn by doing and to invest public funding to deliberately encourage and support research and development in critical areas.

Access to technology and its application are critical. Science and technology could be the difference between Malawi being able to tackle poverty effectively by growing and developing their economies and the perpetual tag of “one of the poorest countries in the world”. The route to Malawi’s economic development squarely depends on its ability to grasp and apply insights from science and technology and use them creatively.

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