Bih Janet Shufor Fofang on developing pedagogic tools to enhance STEM education in Cameroon

Bih Janet Shufor Fofang on developing pedagogic tools to enhance STEM education in Cameroon
6 min read

Bih Janet Shufor Fofang, an electrical engineer by training, has been teaching for more than 15 years at the largest government technical institute in Cameroon – the College D’enseignement Technique Industriel et Commerciale. While supporting a strong female presence at the institute, she continues to teach technical subjects including mechanical and electrical engineering.

Bih Janet Shufor Fofang

In 2009, Bih Jane founded the private K-12 Tassah Academy in Cameroon, with 600 students currently enrolled – 60 percent of whom are female.

Tassah Academy

Bih Janet’s goal is to increase the numbers of women in technology in Cameroon, and to give them more decision-making power in STEM. After her visit to Silicon Valley in 2013 through the U.S. State Department’s TechWomen program, Bih Janet initiated the “STEM Boxes” project to equip her students with technology equipment used to teach and learn innovative technologies.

Bih Janet’s efforts to drive computer literacy in West Africa are laudable. In 2016, she received the A. Richard Newton Educator ABIE Award which recognises educators for developing innovative teaching practices and approaches that attract female students to computing, engineering, and maths in K-12 or undergraduate education. Recipients are honoured by the technical women’s community at the Grace Hopper Celebration. The Award honours the life and career of A. Richard Newton (1951-2007), who was a professor and dean of the College of Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, a pioneer in electronic design automation and integrated circuit design, and a visionary leader in the technology industry.

“I grew up in a large family from humble roots, in the North West Region of Cameroon. I had an interesting childhood, and did the things most children in my neighbourhood did. I sold foodstuff in the markets, and went to farm with my parents.”

  • What was your first impression of STEM as a young woman?

“I have never thought of STEM as something that had a gender assigned connotation tagged to it. As a matter of fact, I happened to grow up having many brothers and mimicked and competed with them at every level without paying attention to gender. It was only until I started work that I realised workplace ethics seemed to identify role plays with gender. I have always known what I have to do without fear of stigma or stereotype. I grew up free, and no one reminded me of what I could or could not do.”

  • You have been teaching electrical engineering for over 15 years at the College D’enseignement Technique Industriel et Commercial. What has this experience been like for you?

“It’s been 18 years, and I now develop pedagogic tools to enhance the teaching and learning of STEM in our educational system. It has been an enriching experience; one where I have had to exchange skills with bright young minds and grown my own competence. Not only have I developed the ability to analyse and think things through, I have learnt the art of giving back selflessly as I see my students grow and appreciate what they have acquired. I learnt to be patient and humble to learn new things while accepting the possibility of exploring other options in my career.”

  • What inspired your STEM Boxes project?

“‘STEM boxes’ was borne out of a need to reach out to students in underprivileged areas with little resources. Given that most of the technology equipment used to teach and learn artificial intelligence and innovative technologies are not made in Cameroon, I knew I had to figure out how to reach as many students as possible with a few boxes. Even though I taught different things to different groups of girls, I knew we can not accept the excuse of lack of resources and not do something to overcome these challenges. We need to work beyond obstacles. Miniaturised labs are now the order of the day, and as technology is changing and offering the ability to bypass challenges, we have to take advantage of these opportunities.”

  • You have had the opportunity to visit Silicon Valley. How did this experience change your general outlook on technology and culture?

“My experience at the Silicon Valley was life changing. I realised there was something I needed to fix as soon as possible. That was my mind! I had to make a tremendous mind-shift to transpose the thought process of the inventors and innovators of Silicon Valley into my own space with its own realities…because we all shared one thing in common. We are all simply focused on solving a problem in our communities, and we are doing so with all the conviction and passion we have possible. They believe in their dreams, they have the conviction that everything they do, no matter how small, contributes to the well being of their society. That was a big lesson for me. Believing in one’s self, one’s ability and one’s worth.”

“What if we stopped waiting for someone to provide solutions, and focused instead on also making change happen in our communities by solving everyday problems through our own inventions?”

  • If you could change one thing about Cameroon now, what would it be, and why?

“I would change the educational curriculum, and the way lessons are delivered, because there is a disconnect between what is taught in school and everyday life. Students finish school and lack the skills and aptitude to solve even the most basic problems around them. The education they receive sometimes seems to mislead them into thinking that earning certificates is what matters more than owning a skill.”