By Awa Macalo
Muhammed Chuka Joof, a Gambian STEM educator, will join 32 Fellows from African and Latin American countries at the University of Colorado’s PhET Interactive Simulations Boulder Fellowship program.
The fellowship is aimed at supporting the promotion of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects in schools and universities across Africa and Latin America.
The 18 months long programme is part of the PhET global initiative, supported by the Yidan Prize Foundation as part of the prize project activities of 2020 Laureate Carl Wieman and will take place in two phases – with 80 plus hours of professional learning to build skills and knowledge of PhET resources, and 70 plus hours of professional leadership practice to support teachers use of PhET simulations across their regions.
The Fellows will also work with at least 1,600 teachers from both continents to build strong teacher communities and improve students and access to quality STEM education.
STEM subjects are critical for countries’ socioeconomic development and citizens’ ability to address challenges.
However, an African Development Bank report indicates that only around a quarter of African higher education students choose STEM careers, and both areas struggle to provide high-quality STEM education on a large scale.
Mr Joof is the first Gambian to be awarded the PhET fellowship. The 28-year-old is the executive director of mentorship and community joint support organisation (MCJSupport Org). Through his organization, he has successfully implemented multiple projects with the US State Department including improving STEM education for the hard of hearing by upgrading computer facilities and a learning center at St John School for the Deaf.
Through a grant, he has provided a high-end braille printer used for printing education content, aimed at enhancing the smooth unification of the national syllabus to braille. The grant also provided capacity-building training for regional itinerary teachers to introduce visually impaired students across the country to information technology.
He was one of the pioneers of digital content creators during the peak of the pandemic, as an education emergency response strategy to curb the impact of Covid-19, on Gambian students.
Also, he has assisted to train an average of approximately 100 teachers in The Gambia on digital pedagogy, mostly using PhET simulations as the major educational tool, in order to dispel the myths surrounding STEM education and facilitate the assimilation of essential STEM concepts for students and understanding.
He is currently working with Human Ware Company in the United Kingdom to introduce braille one and victor readers to the Blind School in order to bridge the digital and communication divide between the blind and sighted, Human Ware has donated gadgets worth about D200,000 to launch this program.
Muhammed being one of the youngest and with the least of qualifications, making it through the critical selection process, expressed gratitude and appreciation of this award; “given the experience and qualifications of the applicants, this is not a start but the continuation of the activities we have with the government of The Gambia concerning STEM education and itsimpact on the critical mass of science and engineering.
This has given me more motivation to keep driving the engine for national development through STEM education. I will do all my best to keep the name of Gambia up and high as always,” He said.
The PhET project has delivered over 1.1 billion simulations worldwide, with more than 250 million online simulation sessions taking place on average per year. With the rise of remote learning due to COVID-19, PhET has more than doubled in usage since 2020.
Professor Carl Wieman, founder of PhET Interactive Simulations, and a Yidan Prize and Nobel Prize laureate, said: “Education and the ability to think scientifically are fundamental for people to learn how to make better decisions and be more successful in all aspects of their lives.
Through this Fellowship program, we are nurturing a pool of local talent to advocate for a scientific approach to teaching maths and science. We especially want the most marginalized students to benefit from high-quality STEM education so that they are better prepared to face the challenges of tomorrow.”
Edward Ma, Secretary-General of the Yidan Prize Foundation, highlighted that “Carl and the PhET team have been creating new possibilities through digital STEM education for two decades. They apply the science of learning to equip learners around the world with skills to think like a scientist. The Yidan Prize Foundation is very proud to support PhET s new Fellowship program. We hope that more schools and teachers will see the value of engaging learners through research-based STEM education, and accelerate its adoption across Africa and Latin America.”