Heather Beem: CEO & Founder of Practical Education Network
#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?
Heather Beem: In Ghana, less than 10% of the junior high schools contain any laboratory equipment. This leaves teachers feeling limited to writing on the blackboard and employing rote memorization as their main pedagogy. Students are rapidly losing interest in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics], and failure rates on the national exams are rising. Our solution is to train teachers to use low-cost, locally available materials to teach STEM within the existing system.
#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?
HB: Right after I submitted my grad school thesis, I flew to Ghana to run our pilot teacher training, which we had been planning for one year. As I saw and heard the reactions of the participants in the room, strongly calling out “we need more of this program!” I knew we had finally created something that aligned with the needs and realities of the ecosystem.
#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?
HB: Although the education sector seems altruistic, the sad reality is that some gatekeepers in the system are more concerned about their own welfare than that of those they are in charge of. We have had to persist through these challenges to get our program out there.
#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?
HB: The teachers we work with inspire me, with the way they completely transform their classrooms into experiential learning environments. The PEN team inspires me, with their determination to relentlessly pursue our mission. And at the most fundamental level, God continues to inspire me to find ways of serving those around me.
#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?
HB: I hope that young women coming behind me will choose to pursue the intersection of their passions and the needs they see, even if they feel society is dictating otherwise.
#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?
HB: Young people are greatly helped by seeing role models who look like them. Here in Africa, where the youth population is expected to increase 50% by 2050, we desperately need women innovators to serve as role models for the growing numbers of youth.
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.