The Ghana Secondary Technical School Alumni Association (GAA) has been on a mission these past three years to revive interest in technical and science education at GSTS. That desire was underscored in our recent fundraising event to sponsor our school’s robotics team, GiantBot1, the current National Robotics ARC Champions, to the 2018 Robofest Competition in Southfield, Michigan and to Massachusetts for an educational tour.
The GAA got interested in robotics for a number of reasons. Primary among them is to find a way to get students interested in technical education again. Currently, the school’s technical curriculum is moribund; the technical workshops are in ruins, with only a minority of students pursuing technical subjects. For most alumni, this represents a dramatic shift in the core mission upon which the school was founded. In the past, all students were required to take technical subjects regardless of their intended educational trajectory.
In the following essays, two Giants share their perspectives on the importance of technical education as it relates to their own experiences, their reflection on the 2018 Robofest Competition, and what it means for GSTS and science education in Ghana.
IT IS NOT JUST ABOUT COMPETITIONS - Giant George Andoh’89’91- GAA
Robotics is a wonderful extracurricular activity for any STEM student to be involved in. Especially, for a school like GSTS, it offers and teaches our students so much outside the confines of the classroom.
For our students, the emphasis should be on leadership, problem solving, teamwork, innovation, ingenuity, entrepreneurship, mathematics, science, and engineering. We need to encourage students to be resourceful. For example, they should learn to recycle parts and scrap from old electronics such as TV’s, radios and use them to solve real world problems relevant to the Ghana economy and the world as a whole. The exposure the team got by visiting Worcester Technical High School (WTHS) and Quinsigamond Community College (QCC) is priceless as it exposed them to what their peers are doing with robotics in an academic setting and also the real life applications of robotics.
Participation in 2018 Robofest in the US should be the icing on the cake for GSTS Robotics. As one who spent the whole day at the event, I think GiantBot1 team did very well by placing 12th out of 23 teams from around the world. In fact, all the Ghanaian teams that participated should be proud of their achievement. Right to Dream Academy was ranked 8th and Opoku Ware Secondary School ranked 14th out of the 23 teams in the senior division.
In my opinion, participation in competitions should not be the main reason for a GSTS student to get involved in Robotics. If we qualify for Robofest or any other competition for that matter, that is great since world competitions have a role to play. As a matter of fact, they test our student’s capabilities with peers around the world and also allow them to learn from each other. Not making the trip or not winning an award should not kill anyone’s dream about Robotics. The real measure or value for a student’s involvement in robotics should be about what they are learning and how they can use that experience and knowledge to improve society and the lives of people around them.
I witnessed this year’s Robofest Competition with a group of old friends from the Old School GSTS and I must say it was intriguing stuff on display. Young minds from all over world with the help of coaches showcasing robotic solutions to real world problems. I made it a point to see all the exhibits on display by students from different countries. Unfortunately, none of the Ghanaian teams presented for the Exhibition aspect of the event. I was hoping that the GSTS contingent will make time to see all the exhibits, but I am not sure if they did. Since this was our (GSTS) first time, we can excuse ourselves for focusing only on the competition. Perhaps, that was the only option given to the Ghanaian teams. Personally, I saw the Annual Robofest in Detroit as a showcase of young minds using robotics to come up with real life solutions, in addition to being a robotics competition.
Conversations with Giants at the event suggest that the Ministry of Education, especially, the Minister of Education has shown a personal interest in reviving technical education, and also in robotics. This is a good sign, because there exist a potential for a partnership with schools, alumni associations, industry and the government to promote a meaningful STEM policy that would be beneficial to the country at large.
I am hoping that at the upcoming 2018 Speech and Prize-Giving day at GSTS, we would see student exhibitions that include robotics. There are many opportunities for student projects to incorporate the traditional sciences, metalwork, and woodwork studied at GSTS with robotics.
If asked to make some suggestions these are what I would propose:
1.GSTS should not focus only on the competitions, Robotics should be a learning experience for all students. At GSTS, I hope it becomes an option just like metalwork, woodwork, building and engineering drawing were options during our time.
2.As a technical school, GSTS/GAA needs to showcase a years’ work of robotics when attending such events.
3.GSTS/GAA needs to include computer programming as part of its curriculum or if not possible, as an extracurricular option so that students can write and debug code.
4.GSTS/GAA should invest in kids that are interested in learning the programming, the fabrication, the design, and the presentation aspects of robotics.
5.GSTS/GAA students should be introduced to the concept of recycling, including but not limited to the knowledge and skills required to harvest and recycle scrap material from old electronics such as TVs, radios, transistors for part
6.GSTS/GAA should encourage within-school competitions to select innovative and talented kids that are serious about Robotics.
7.GSTS/GAA should not just focus on the competition but the entire robotics experience.
I will end by saying kudos to the students and coaches, GSTS, the GAA, the teachers, donors, supporters and all Giants who made this trip possible. Our boys were good and worked very hard. I am sure they would take a look at their performance and make the necessary amends. They are the National Gold, Silver and Bronze ARC Champions of Ghana for a reason and they made me proud to be a Giant in Detroit.
Of Mind and Hand Giant Walter Kwami (GSTS class of 1984) -GAA
On an uneventful September day in 1981, I joined the rest of my schoolmates at GSTS for the start of a new school year. It would be the beginning of my third year, and I had a personal mission. In my luggage was a broken piece from my sister’s Singer sewing machine, which I had brought back to school with the aim of designing and building the broken part to undertake the repair upon my return home.
There were no schematics to guide me, but my first two years at GSTS studying Metalwork and Technical Drawing couple with my Art class gave me a good starting point. After taking measurements of the broken part, I sketched the part in my notebook, after which I grabbed my drawing board and drawing tools set, and headed for the serenity of an empty classroom. Within a few hours I had my prototype of the broken part. Over the course of the preceding weeks, I would visit the metal workshop to work on the part until I was able to reproduce the part. I graduated GSTS equipped with skills relevant to the workforce, and even though jobs were scarce, it didn’t prevent me from leveraging that foundation to design and build radios and amplifiers from books I had borrowed from the Accra Central Library.
The demise of technical education at GSTS robs its students of similar opportunities, and I add my voice in advocating for the school to return to its core mission. It may not necessarily involve lathe machines and veneer calipers, but a future of additive manufacturing in 3D printing, computer aided design, robotics and automation, computer programming, etc., will serve to unleash similar creativity and problem solving. Adding courses in entrepreneurship will equip students with the skills to start and manage their own business where jobs are hard to find, and should they choose to further their education they would have a solid foundation from which they can build upon.
Congratulations GSTS GiantBot1 for participating at the 2018 World Robofest Competition.
Mente et manu – mind and hand!