Youths: Africa’s Future Depends on its Investment in STEM Education

The fast changing developments in science and technology pose a threat to the conventional work setting which could leave thousands of people jobless in the near future.

With the introduction of artificial intelligence along with recent sophisticated tech innovations, many have concluded that technology is more than ever going to influence how people live.

It is for this reason that young people argue that Africa must make deliberate efforts to invest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) if it is to equip the young generation with the skills that the technology-led future will require.

During the recently concluded Léo Africa Economic Forum held at Kampala Serena Hotel, young people expressed concern over the current educational approach towards teaching sciences which they said needs to be refined.

Anorld Kwizera, the Media Relations Manager at the African Institute for Mathematical Studies (AIMS) in his presentation argued that Africa’s science education is still constrained by a colonial system that was designed to create an inferiority mentality among Africans.

“Africa missed the first, second and third industrial revolutions. The fourth industrial revolution is here and it is going to be based on digitization and digital management. Communication is going to be very critical moving forward,” Kwizera said in a side event themed ‘Nurturing the next generation of innovators’.

He noted that while countries in the West and Asia are already investing significantly in the fourth industrial revolution, African is again trailing due to lack of the relevant skill set.

90% of graduates in Africa have trained in humanities yet the employment opportunities in the work sector now require STEM technology, he said.

Nigeria’s literacy rate are ranked only second to Zimbabwe in Africa. Of the 5,000 engineers that Nigeria requires every year, it can only produce 1,800.

This, Kwizera says, paints a grim picture for the rest of the continent whose literacy levels are even lower. As a result, Africa loses up to USD 6bn annually to foreign expatriates that come in to do STEM related work.

“All these initiatives like robotics, smart cities and artificial intelligence will necessitate an education system that promotes critical thinking and analysis as opposed to the memorization model. Pupils don’t need to still be taught that one plus one is two. One could argue that one plus one is eleven.”

According to Kwizera, the conversation on STEM education must also involve teacher training programs beginning at lower levels.

It is for this reason that AIMS, a network of centers of excellence in mathematical science through its ‘Next Einstein Initiative’ is bringing together best minds world over to meet with African minds to create solutions for Africa.

“We have some brilliant brains in Africa that are doing stuff using STEM technology but investment must be made to turn this technology into social and direct impact that reduces poverty,” Kwizera said. USA in 2016 alone invested up to USD46bn in research and development compared to just USD 4bn that Africa invested in the same area in the same year.

Julius Mugaga, an innovator and tutor of Biomedical Science at Makerere University invented a game of cards that allows young pupils to think critically and learn mathematical principles using a more interactive approach.

He had visited several refugee camps in Uganda and discovered that the post war trauma and the horrors that came with it disenabled children from paying attention to science subjects particularly math.

“With this game, I thought we would model mathematics to a game that allows children to do elementary math and think critically without using the calculators that have spoiled us,” Mugaga said.

He urges innovators to consider the end user for whom they are innovative.

In Uganda’s case, many educationists have often advocated for a curriculum that gives priority to practical skills that will be applicable in the work setting rather than good grades.

Audrey Dralega, a consultant with People and Potential Education Consultancy in her reaction during the same forum said schools need to focus on the science of common things which helps children to question situations and gives them the ability to generate ideas.

“It is at Primary School where it all starts. There’s so much mathematics in the little things that are outside the classroom like shooting an arrow, cooking or even children discussing amongst themselves. The things teachers consider minor,” Dralega said.

“Overdependence on cramming information instead of being able to interact with it or interrogate it is putting our kids at a disadvantage. The teacher is a source among sources and what they tell pupils could be outdated by the time of examination.”


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