Monday, 25 January 2016

Science BarCamp Ghana Examines Scientific Solutions for Economic Progress

Science BarCamp logo
Scientific developments in a country or society cannot proceed without a nurturing community, a collection of critical thinkers and willing actors. These people are usually buoyed by curiosity, to understand the underlying mechanisms of natural phenomena, and creativity, to devise solutions to day-to-day challenges humanity faces. Ghana’s first Science BarCamp, held last Saturday 9th January, witnessed a collection of such passionate thinker-doers at the National ICT and Science Resource Centre, Accra. The programme was put together by GhScientific, in partnership with GhanaThink Foundation, and supported by Novan Education and Training. The theme, “scientific solutions for economic progress”, could not be timelier, with the country facing challenges in energy, youth employment, sanitation, and public services. “What’s a barcamp?” you may ask. A barcarmp is a participatory ‘unconference’ where the programme and content are user-generated. Unlike your typical conference, everyone is encouraged to be a speaker and a member of the audience at the same time. Featuring various interactive formats, the programme seeks to engage all participants to learn and share in an open environment. GhanaThink has been spearheading barcamps, as a youth social changemaking movement, in Ghana since 2008. Science BarCamp remixed GhanaThink’s barcamp format, including science demo sessions, and an engaging panel discussion focused on issues affecting science in Ghana. The event brought together established scientists, professionals, young researchers, students, and general science enthusiasts. I was delighted to be the MC for the day.

Science mentors, L to R: Cordie, Gloria, Delali, Sam B, and Sam AF, introduce themselves. Credit: GhScientific 
After a round of self-introductions, the programme started with a panel discussion moderated by Larisa Bowen-Dodoo of Servled Africa. The discussants were Dr Kwamena Sagoe (Ghana Science Association), Dr Elsie Effah Kaufmann (University of Ghana), Mr Anis Haffar (GATE Institute), and Dr Patrick Arthur (University of Ghana). The discussion explored various facets of the theme, addressing issues such as quality of science education, motivation for science careers, and how to make science more marketable in Ghana. Their insights were complimented by contributions from a well-engaged audience. A very interesting discussion point was the role of the educational system (including teachers) in sustaining student’s interest in science. While many held that it was incumbent on schools to provide the needed stimulation and motivation, a few others were of the view that science, being a difficult field of endeavour, requires students’ own initiative and dogged determination to overcome inevitable challenges, irrespective of the environment. Various viewpoints covered the environment-initiative spectrum.

Dr Elsie Effah Kaufmann strongly advocated for student initiative as a key ingredient in learning science
Next, attendees had one-on-one mentoring sessions with invited scientists and industry professionals. The mentors were Dr Gloria Ivy Mensah (Women in Biomedicine Africa), Kobby Blay (GhanaHealthNest), Alain Gbeasor (Gesus Group), Jorge Appiah (Creativity Group), Delali Otchi (Hydra Group), Sam Bhattacharyya (dot Learn), Tunde Alawode (dot Learn), Dr Patrick Arthur (Department of Biochemistry, University of Ghana), Cordie Aziz (Environment360), and Samuel Amoako-Frimpong (University of Energy and Natural Resources). The mentors shared perspectives on their areas of expertise including biomedical research, health communication, industrial chemicals, education, engineering, technology, and environmental sustainability. They gave guidelines on how to proceed on a science career path and practicalising scientific ideas. The group then broke for lunch during which there was a bit of unstructured mingling.

After lunch, Dr Thomas Tagoe, co-founder of GhScientific, led demos and fun games, which were very exciting. Samuel Amoako-Frimpong presented on virtual reality and how it can be applied in education. We also enjoyed #PipetteWars, a game testing the speed and accuracy of players to fill a white tile with water. Dr Arthur ultimately showed his pipetting prowess honed by many hours in biochemistry labs.

Dr Arthur faces off with Freda during finals of #PipetteWars
Four breakout sessions were organised to explore issues of interest to the participants. The areas selected were inspired by the contributions made during the panel discussion. The topics discussed were:
  • Moving from scientific ideas to large-scale solutions, led by Freda Yawson (Innovate Ghana)
  • Making science education interesting and appealing ,led by Saddiq Mohammed (Ghana Association of Science Teachers)
  • Engaging communities with science, led by Billy James Dega (National Society for Black Engineers)
  • Applications of virtual reality, led by Samuel Amoako-Frimpong (UENR)
Volunteers from each session summarised their discussion points for the plenary. As part of the closing remarks, the organisers mentioned various STEM projects and groups participants could engage with going forward.

Breakout sessions ongoing at SciBarCamp
Science BarCamp created a rare networking opportunity for both young scientists and their older counterparts. The event was highly interactive and all—round participation was fantastic. Science BarCamp created an intimate atmosphere for kindred spirits to discuss science, its possibilities, and the way forward for Ghana. I found conversations around learning, the environment, biotechnology, science business, and technology invigorating. This type of engagement is often missing in Ghana. Therefore GhScientific and partners must be applauded for their bold efforts in making science mainstream. There are already calls for Science BarCamp to be taken to other regions of Ghana. It would take the support of everyone who cares about Ghana’s future to make this possible.

Photo moment with cross-section of participants after programme. Credit GhScientific
What to know more about Science BarCamp? Check out this collection of photos on, and follow #SciCampGH and #SciBarCamp across social media.