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Promote science to honour Calestous Juma legacy

The age of reason began in Europe when men who wielded the pen became more revered than men who wielded the sword. Sir Isaac Newton was knighted because of the scientific advances that he pioneered.

He is buried in Westminster Abbey in London, a place that was once reserved for only high born nobles and statesmen, kings and generals. French philosopher Voltaire was amazed at the funeral accorded to a mere mathematician.

A great Kenyan scientist last month entered the afterlife, and I hope we honour him accordingly. Calestous Juma died on December 15. Unfortunately, Africa still lags behind when it comes to producing extraordinary scholars of science, Harvard Prof Juma was the exception to that rule. With his passing we are left even poorer. Science is a state of mind.

The way it is taught in Kenyan schools you will think, the subject is merely an accumulation of facts about the natural world. Students are force fed a diet that consists of factoids about gravity and nutrition.

While a strong understanding of the facts is needed to become a good scientist, what truly underpins the profession is an understanding of the scientific method. One needs to live and breath the scientific method.

At the dawn of the millennium, African leaders led by then South African president, Thabo Mbeki were heard preaching about an African Renaissance. For this to happen, we have to embrace the scientific revolution that the rest of mankind joined long time ago.

Prof Juma was a serious advocate of African scientific development. He knew it was high time we took our place at the table. Reforms in the education should go beyond mere window dressing to honour Juma’s legacy.

The Kenyan curriculum has focused on performing intellectualism instead of embracing true intellectualism. One needs to merely turn on the nightly news to see so-called seasoned political analysts impressing Kenyans with rhetorical pyrotechnics and fireworks. The loudest voice or the man with a serious command of the Queen’s English is said to have carried the day in a debate.

The scientific method that Prof Juma espoused is not impressed by this. Reason is the mainstay of science. Arguments must be supported by evidence. Performing intellectualism is concerned with only appearance. People are obsessed with appearing clever.

We are still reeling with shock with the mass failure of candidates in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination. Science builds on past failures.

Isaac Newton was the first to acknowledge that he would not have been able to read nature like a book if it was not for standing on the shoulders of giants. His scientific breakthroughs built on the knowledge of those who came before him. — The writer is a management fellow at the City of Wichita, USA —[email protected]

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