Tue | Oct 23, 2018

Andrew Wheatley | Science driving development

Published:Sunday | May 6, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Energy, Science and Technology Minister Andrew Wheatley.

As a young graduate student in the Faculty of Pure and Applied Sciences (now Faculty of Science and Technology) at the University of the West Indies, my research focused on how the body breaks down carbohydrates found in common Jamaican foods. My work would later go on to contribute to the paradigm shift within the medical community on new nutritional recommendations for diabetic patients.

Although the body of knowledge (science) was sound, and this knowledge could be applied to diabetes management (technology) and resulted in the patenting of four new products (innovation), it wasn't until I entered the public service as councillor for the Naggo Head division in St Catherine that I truly understood the value of my scientific work. Time and again my constituents, many of whom suffered from diabetes, would mention that their physician advised that they consume more yam and sweet potato instead of rice and flour. They would also add that this dietary shift made tremendous improvements to their health and finances. Nothing made me prouder than to see how my research at the UWI improved the quality of life for everyday Jamaicans.

This story about a part of my life's work to date is not as unique as some may think. Hundreds of scientists and innovators across Jamaica and the world are engaged in ground-breaking work that can have a real positive impact on our citizenry, communities and country. Governments globally position science, technology and innovation as central to advancing economic, social and environmental sustainability.

Prosperous countries continue to use science and its applications to address national and global problems such as climate change, environmental degradation, human health, energy security, security and corruption. These countries also continue to increase investments for ST&I within their productive sectors such as agriculture, food manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications and transportation to offer more competitive products and services.

We must embrace the role of ST&I as tools to achieve peace, prosperity and progress in Jamaica. This role will be articulated in the soon-to-be-launched National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy: Catalysing Development.

The policy proposes four major actions to achieve this vision.

Connect the major players: ST&I occurs in a complex multisectoral landscape. Approximately 50 ministries, departments and agencies, a dozen higher educational institutions and several private-sector and non-governmental agencies in the productive sector are engaged in research and innovation activities. These players will be connected systematically using a mechanism called the National Innovation System to transform ideas and results from the research community into products and processes that can be readily absorbed by productive and legislative firms.

Foster a culture of innovation: All Jamaicans at the personal, public, corporate and political levels must understand the value of ST&I to their own pursuits for prosperity. This will be achieved by raising awareness on the benefits of ST&I as tools to empower people and communities. Knowledge, technology outputs and innovative potential within industry will be increased to expand production, enhance product and service quality, while increasing a firm's profitability.

Drive development agenda: Jamaica will leapfrog toward its Vision 2030 targets using disruptive innovation, underpinned by sound science. New knowledge and technologies will exploit opportunities, especially in areas where Jamaica has a comparative and competitive advantage. This will be achieved while minimising risks posed by emerging technologies, such as driverless cars, bioengineering, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, big data and robotics.

Have a world-class capacity: Jamaica will become a world leader in providing knowledge and strategic innovations. The Government and industry will increase its investments in ST&I. As a result, Jamaica will have modern world-class infrastructure to support frontier and high-impact scientific work and training. Increased investments in human talent will ensure that there is a critical mass of competent scientists, technicians, engineers and STEM educators that are prepared for, and can contribute to, the world of tomorrow.

I invite all Jamaicans to get involved. Science, technology and innovation affects us all, especially as the pace of technological development develops rapidly.

I invite you to participate in a public consultation process and make use of the opportunity to join other stakeholders in this important national dialogue. Contact the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology (www.mset.gov.jm) or the National Commission on Science and Technology (www.ncst.gov.jm) for more information on the national policy.

Let's work together to ensure Jamaica modernises its economy and society and works towards 'a dynamic science technology and innovation culture, unleashing the creative potential of our people, catalysing development and sustainable prosperity, contributing to social transformation, empowering Jamaicans to excel in an evolving world and contributing to the global frontiers of science.'

 

- Andrew Wheatley, PhD, is the minister of energy, science and technology. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.