As excitement dies down over the just released KCSE results which posted an improvement in Science and Mathematics subjects, the focus now shifts on the country’s investments in Science and Technology that remain at an all time low by world standards .
The 2010 UNESCO Science Report shows, the Gross Domestic Expenditure in Research and Development (R&D) attracts less public funding than the military, health or education sectors in many sub-Saharan countries.
The report names South Africa as the only country that comes close to the 1percent mark for R&D intensity, it also dominates in scientific publications representing 46.4 percent; Nigeria comes in second with 11.4percent with Kenya trailing third at 6.6percent.
Last years KCSE results posted notable improvements in the overall 14 subjects compared to 2009 where there was improvement in only 11 subjects. Math, Biology, Chemistry and CRE posted improvements.
Alliance High school posted the best performance in the subject category in mathematics with a mean of 11.224. In the sciences, the school clinched the top prize with an 11.2475 mean in Biology and an 11. 1962 mean in Chemistry. Representing the girls were Kenya High school with a mean of 11.2475 in Physics.
The minister for education Prof. Sam Ongeri attributes this progress to the prevailing tranquility in 2010 coupled with a good learning education system. In 2009 measures taken to boost the sciences such as giving of incentives for science laboratory equipment and provisions given in the Community Development Fund (CDF), did little to bolster the performance.
An education task force set up in 2009 to investigate the drop in Science performance cited shortages of teaching staff for these subjects- with instances where teachers versed in humanities were forced to teach these subjects; poor strategic planning and management coupled with weakness in interventions on CDF and poor laboratory equipment.
The education task force is expected to finalize its report and come up with recommendations for implementation later this year.
The findings by UNESCO attributes the lack of investment in the R & D sectors, to low literacy and poor quality education, even though enrollment in education has peaked over the years, with Kenya taking advantage of the free education tuition now in its 3rd year. The second is the so called brain drain, where one third of all African researchers were living and working abroad in 2009.
Kenya can take lessons from the west African country of Cameroon, where they used the writing –off of part of its debt to create a permanent fund in 2009, this led to an overnight tripling of academics salaries and the eventual swelling up in the number of academics to one third with the volume of scientific articles produced by state universities rising.
The UNESCO report also gives highlights of methods used by the Indian government to establish 30 universities to help raise student enrollment from less than 15million in 2007 to 21million in 2012. Large emerging economies such as Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa are now investing heavily in research and development.
Presently Kenyan universities are ill equipped to cater for the burgeoning demand of university education, with calls for the government to improve infrastructure .The way forward for the sciences is for the government to invest in tertiary education and research and development.
Ms Nyambura is a freelance science journalist