What Hurricane Harvey should remind us about Nigeria’s education

by Alexander Onukwue

Amidst the devastation that has been produced by the category 4 tropical cyclone known as Hurricane Harvey, insurance companies have been pushing their computers to estimate how much they will have to pay out.

Early estimates suggest that the costs of the ongoing wreck are at the minimum of $10 billion and could rise up to $160 billion. One would ordinarily imagine that the expertise required here would be mainly that of financials and actuarial disciplines, but you could not be any more wrong. Among the core disciplines required to measure and predict the physical damages that could be produced from such disasters is physics.

According to an article in the Atlantic, some insurance companies in the US take advice from disaster modeling firms who create prediction and simulation systems based on the law of physics. The main feature is that by calculating the parameters of the forces of the wind and making rational assumptions of the impact of the wind and accompanying storm on physical structures, extent of damage can be hypothesised.

The models do not work perfectly, especially for flooding due to the higher unpredictability of floods. However, the science-backed estimates produced from these models help the insurance companies to have better ideas of the level of damage they can expect to deal with.

The ability to make quantitative predictive judgments on a phenomenon as irregular as a hurricane should be quite a remarkable undertaking, but it is made possible by other pre-existing factors such as proper urban plans, standardised building materials, and the availability of details about things like building plans and materials used in the custody of regulatory bodies.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education are not necessarily comatose in Nigeria but occasions like this show just how behind the country still is. Individual Nigerians may be making some remarkable achievements, like the computer than can smell an explosive, but there is not yet the investment in STEM education on an institutional level to drive the nation towards advancement and industrialisation.

Given the continuous reduction in the budget for Education on annual basis, the hope of catching up and using science to solve problems would remain a distant one.

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