Last Updated
Friday 19 December 2014, 09:33 am.
BIUST Vice-Chancellor speaks

"The way we teach Mathematics and Science where formulas are used continuously is tough and hard for African students"
By Staff Writer Mon 22 Dec 2014, 02:36 am (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: BIUST Vice-Chancellor speaks








These are the words of Professor Kweku Bentil, Vice-Chancellor of the recently established Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST).

He echoes what is used to explain Africa's stagnation and degeneration. Pundits have proffered reasons like lack of enough scientists and engineers to develop Africa. Africans skilled in the sciences are moving to the First World where they are attracted by lucrative pay.

It is said that most Africans and by extension black people are disinterested in Mathematics and Science-related subjects. The veracity of this view is itself subject to a lot of debate.

Bentil, a Ghanaian civil engineer, says that even in the United States where he was a student and a lecturer he heard about Africans and the sciences.

"Where I went to college in the US, I was the only black student and when I was teaching, I was the only black professor," he says.

He says that the solution to the problem is simple - introduce Mathematics and Science at elementary level.

"Students should find the teaching and learning of these subjects as simple, fun and lovable whilst they are still young," he says.Bentil admits that he has not visited schools to get an appreciation of the Botswana education system. He says visiting Botswana schools is topmost in his priorities.

"As soon as I have my leadership team, we will go and meet all Mathematics and Science teachers and see how we can help them. As a country, we need to see if they are well prepared to teach and make students love these subjects (science, technology and engineering). Learning is a two-way process, if we do it right, students will be prepared to tackle them," he says.

Bentil has worked both as a lecturer and an administrator, rising through the ranks to become a vice-chancellor in US colleges.

His skills have seen him come up with practical solutions to problems both in the US, Asia and Africa. While at Indiana State University, he created a programme where Vietnamese students would come for their second year for training in MBA.

In 2001, he designed a leadership programme for vice-chancellors of Moroccan universities. "It was at a time when the universities were changing from French system to the US system of learning," he says.

Besides universities, the 63-year-old professor has worked in the private sector in engineering and construction. His diligence and aptitude saw him rising through the ranks to become a chief executive officer of a construction firm in Georgia.

Is this African professor, with his immense skills set and experience, the answer to Botswana's dream of becoming a leading scientific, technological and engineering hub in Africa and the world?

His answer comes out in a passionate statement, capturing his excitement at the prospect of pioneering an important institution in Botswana. He says that he is ready to deliver the dream to Botswana.

"I was attracted to Botswana to be a part of an opportunity to build something, a highly prized science, engineering and technology university from scratch. With my background in construction engineering and academics, I am better positioned to help launch this university. I have all it takes; I have been a professor, so I understand the issue of developing courses and syllabus. I can communicate well with lecturers. I have done research and published," he says.

He says that his work speaks for him. He has introduced a micro-sewage system designed for low cost houses in his home country, Ghana. It is easier and environmentally friendlier especially when disposing of waste from toilets.

He says he is ready to take full advantage of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) to make the university a success. "Through the PPP, you get someone to design, finance, build, maintain and operate the facilities. PPP is a good model and is attractive to any government because you don't have to put all cash in advance," he says. 

He says that the model is common in the US. When a university wants halls of residence, a company will build them and get paid by the government. The company hands over the project to the government after payment is completed.

Bentil says that he has experience working with the private sector.

"Every project we did (in the US) was with the private sector. We even had the private sector sitting on advisory boards to advise on how to design the curriculum. We will do the same here and create a strong relationship with the private sector such that they will also take students on internship programmes in their companies. But I would not want my students to be making copies and coffee but rather concentrating on hands-on work related to their discipline in the companies," he says.He is ready to produce researchers and academics. He says there are two types of research - theoretical research and applied. "Applied research is one that is used to find solutions to problems. It involves going to places like mines to identify the problems. In Botswana, we can look at harvesting and utilising the sun," he says.

He says BIUST will try to provide solutions to challenges facing Botswana, Africa and the world challenges. The institution will recruit the best brains in the world to fulfill its mandate.

"Our major focus is research, science, technology and management, so we will look at our peers (institutions that have similar mandates), where they may be," Bentil says. He hopes that by 2011 BIUST will be fully operational.



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