Raisa Malu: It’s time for Africa to become a technology producer

[KINSHASA] Raisa Malu undoubtedly inherited her passion for science from her father, Felix Malu Wa Kaleng (1936–2011), a university professor specializing in nuclear energy.

A physicist herself, a former teacher of natural sciences and mathematics in secondary and higher educational institutions, she is now working to arouse the interest of young people in these disciplines in order to popularize them as much as possible.

Head of Technical Assistance (UTA) Educational Project for Teaching Quality and Relevance at the Middle and University Levels (PEQPESU) at the Ministry of EPST (Primary Secondary and Technical Education))she was one of the main contributors to science education reform in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“Scientific research, technological innovation and education should be priority sectors for our government. It should invest the most money in it; because all the technologies we use today are the result of this research and development work.”

Raisa Malu, physicist, DRC

At the same time with “Investing in people”The non-profit association (ASBL), founded in 2013, organizes the annual Science and Technology Week in Kinshasa to highlight the work of Congolese and African scientists and encourage young people to follow suit.

The day after 9e In the April 2022 edition of this event, Raisa Malu confessed to SciDev.Net.

How did the idea of ​​holding the “Week of Science and Technology” come about?

This idea was born precisely from the fact that when I imagine myself as a physicist, people generally get scared. Because they remember that at school they hated physics and mathematics the most. And it hurts…

Because I get great pleasure from studying physics and mathematics and therefore I want everyone to share the same pleasure with them. You may not become a physicist like me, but at least you should feel comfortable in these disciplines.

I actually came up with the idea to create this event to demystify these disciplines; I think it’s really important for the general public and the youth.

But I also sought to promote Congolese and African knowledge and know-how in these areas. Unfortunately, when we talk about us, Africa, we forget that we play a role in the history of science.

And this is a huge disadvantage. How do you want to convince our young people to take up our disciplines if they don’t have a role model to identify with?

And so it starts to seem important to me to promote Congolese and African know-how, to say that we have excellent scientists who improve the living conditions of the population, and we should know them.

And the third point, obviously, is to encourage vocations. We really need to have as many students as possible who can enroll in science and technology courses. Otherwise, in 60 years we will know the same DRC as today and with which, sorry, we cannot put up with!

What has OHS brought in terms of progress or change in the perception of scientific research in the DRC?

You see, we have indeed seen evolution. In 2014, when I spoke about Science Week, they looked at me like I was an alien; “But what is she talking about? “. Today there are students who also aspire to become facilitators, trainers.

There are people who absolutely want to come and take part in the events. So what we really want is for science and technology to become the norm now, for us to think that we can really make it big, and above all, we think it’s normal to see a woman or women pushing themselves into this field. I think this is the best result we have out of 9 SST releases.

Based on the lessons learned from these last nine releases, how do you see the next releases?

In 2023 it will be 10e anniversary edition. This will certainly allow us to draw conclusions. We are going to invite all the speakers that we had in 9 editions. As for subsequent editions, the idea is to gradually pass the baton. We need young people who can continue to work on labor protection.

So what we’re seeing in the next editions is that we have a new team of young people who are currently trainers who will be the ones to run Science Week like I do with my team.

You were scientific adviser to President Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi, President of the DRC, during his recent mandate as current President of the African Union. What can we learn from this mandate in terms of scientific research?

This mandate was mainly focused on the issue of youth education. It was not possible to advance the agenda in terms of scientific research … But close cooperation with the African Union Commission was important to us.

As you know, the Commission is an executive body; and therefore at that time we were asked a lot, especially for work with youth, which is one of the priorities of the President of the Republic.The goal was to see how we can empower youth in all areas. Not only in science, but also in entrepreneurship, in education…

We thought we would focus mainly on youth, and so one of the main results of our presidency is the opening of this first academy for young agents of change.

150 young Congolese have been trained online by the African Union Commission on various programs of the Union, and this is the first time. No country in Africa has ever set up an academy for young agents of change, which is why the DRC opened one!

You also hold a position at the EPST Ministry that involves you in the development of science programs in schools. How do you rate it at the moment?

In fact, this is the project “Education for the quality and relevance of education at the secondary and higher levels” in the acronym PQPSU. This project was financed by the World Bank and was aimed at improving the quality of science and mathematics education in secondary, higher and higher educational institutions.

At the ministry level, we have succeeded in reforming the curricula in science and mathematics. Here I would really like to draw attention to what makes this reform special.

What matters is not what children know, but what they can do with what they know, and that was the whole point of the reform of science education and mathematics.

If we want the sciences to play their part, our youth must be better prepared for science and technology, even if not all of them become physicists or mathematicians. But scientific questions like global warming should be of interest to the public. That is why everyone needs a basic education in science and mathematics.

The EPST Ministry has made it possible to bring about this science and math teaching reform by equipping our young people to know how to play a positive role in society. The fact that they are learning how to solve problems is exactly what we need in our country: learning how to solve problems.

How did students and teachers react to this education reform program?

Students and teachers appreciate this new program because it is programs that generate interest. The teaching of mathematics is no longer completely abstract. It should be applied to situations that matter to the student. And we see that the teacher himself is in a position where he is no longer the only one who imparts knowledge, he can work in activities, he can take his class from school to visit companies to make learning concrete.The fact that the teaching of science and mathematics is now concrete means that students, teachers and even parents are very happy with this new reform. Just take a look at the parent testimonials in the videos we have posted.

Of course, there are other problems as well. The EPST ministry will have to continue to train teachers.

What would you say to the Congolese society as a whole about the place of science and technology?

Science and technology cause less and less fear. But at the same time, if there is something really important that we need to understand, it is that we cannot imagine the development of the DRC and Africa without science and technology. Sincerely!

Scientific research, technological innovation and education should be priority sectors for our government, we should invest the most money in them; because all the technologies we use today are the result of this research and development.

We are consumers of technology, and this slows down our development. It’s time for us to become producers of technologies that solve our problems.

Here in the DRC we face a certain number of problems, we are mastering our field, it is not people who come from other places who will find us solutions that are suitable for our situation. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that the best elements of our society should be engaged in science and technology, so that they can really play their role in the development of the country.

You know, we’re having a brain drain involving our best people. They leave for another place because the conditions are not met in the country. It is absolutely necessary to improve the conditions for their return. We need them here, men and women.