As you know, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Development experts throughout the globe have grasped onto the acronym as shorthand for the education, training and workforce development policies that will yield the greatest dividends for any country, developed or emerging. For example, the United States spends approximately $500 billion on research and development per year, about 70% of which is funded by the private sector.
Africa’s burgeoning youth population must be trained in sectors that meet the demands of the new millennium, which means that they need STEM education to compete on the global stage. Failure to educate Africa’s youth in STEM has widespread implications, economically, politically and socially.
While Africa has a long way to go to get to where it needs to be, in this article we highlight four dynamic STEM education efforts across the continent that we hope will inspire policy makers, NGOs, donor organizations, and the private sector to expand upon, in order to meet the huge demands placed on the continent to train and employ its rapidly growing youth population.
Science Circus Africa
Science Circus Africa, SCA, makes STEM exciting for students, teachers and the community through captivating live demonstrations and science shows. The programme has been delivered in Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, South Africa and Zambia.
SCA, funded by the Australian government, has several components, three of which are highlighted here:
1) Science shows that are energetic and interactive provide education in schools and for the general public. The shows align with the school’s curriculum and include content relevant to the African context using locally available, every day items to teach about science.
2) Teacher training workshops that teach teachers how to use engaging, hands on science experiments in their classrooms, achieving two objectives: a) bringing science alive from the pages of text books, and b) inspiring students to pursue science in their further education.
3) Public science demonstrations designed to spark interest in the sciences in the broader community at places such as transport hubs and shopping centres.
1 [Photo Credit: Science Circus Africa]
2 [Photo Credit: Science Circus Africa]
Science Circus Africa serves as one entry point to STEM education by showing students, teachers, parents and the community that science can be fun. SCA works hand in hand with African governments, in particular ministries of education and ministries of ICT, to deliver these immersive programmes which have long-term benefits by increasing awareness of, and interest in, the sciences in selected African countries.
For more information about Science Circus Africa, watch this two minute video:
GE Africa Lagos Garage
GE Africa first introduced the Garage concept in the US as a means of stimulating interest in innovation and manufacturing in the US market, where such interest has waned over the years. By crowdsourcing innovation, both internally and externally, the company has developed solutions that respond to challenging needs.
The Lagos Garage was GE Africa’s first expansion of this concept outside of the US. The Lagos Garage offers year round skills training programs for Nigerian entrepreneurs including how to use 3D printers and laser cutters, among other high tech manufacturing machinery. In addition, the Lagos Garage offers courses on core principles of design thinking, product development, finance, and marketing to entrepreneurs engaged with the Garage.
Program participants have an opportunity to for a hands on learning experience where they actually learn to work on the most advanced manufacturing machines in the world, preparing them for jobs in manufacturing, or raising their awareness of how such machines can be used to create products they wish to develop to serve the Nigerian market.
3 [Photo Credit: GE Africa]
GE Africa has expanded on the program over the years, and now provides an intensive four week session targeted at the most promising entrepreneurs in Nigeria. Participants have an opportunity to to work with world-class instructors, investors, and technical experts to build not only technical skills, but also how to develop a culture of collaboration and innovation, and how to bring their innovative ideas to life.
Taiwo Alege, a Lagos Garage participant who works in the health care industry, had this to say about her experience with the Lagos Garage, “Coming into the Lagos Garage, I’ve made a number of beautiful connections. First, with the people. Second, with the technology – the 3D printing, the adaptive manufacturing. Third, with the instructors who have come to give us lessons, including their life experiences and different perspectives on what they have done in their careers.”
For more information about the GE Africa Lagos Garage, please watch this video.
4 [Photo Credit: GE Africa]
African Science Academy
African Science Academy, ASA, is a specialist science and maths secondary school in Ghana, exclusively for girls. ASA has a student body that is drawn from throughout the continent, from the Cape to Cairo, as is often said. The school was opened in 2016, and has an ambitious agenda of training African girls who have successfully completed secondary school, and have demonstrated an extraordinary talent in, and passion for, maths and science. The programme is an intense 12 month curriculum focused on advanced math, further math and physics. When students graduate from the programme, they sit for the internationally recognized Cambridge International A Levels, which then opens the doors of to engineering, science and computing degrees at leading universities in the UK and beyond.
5 [Photo Credit: MSU]
ASA provides its top achievers with a week long study programme at Oxford and Cambridge in the U.K. While the school is fee-paying, it is well funded with scholarship monies to support both school fees and travel expense for any qualifying girl from an African country, based on a financial means test. In short, no qualified African girl will be turned away because she can not afford to participate.
6 [Photo Credit: African Science Academy]
STEM Youth Boot Camp
Projekt Inspire, in Tanzania, started offering intensive STEM boot camps in 2016 in partnership with the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology. The focus of the program is a combination of exposure to STEM careers, along with hands on scientific experiments, both of which are intended to inspire more students to pursue STEM education. The purpose of the boot camp is to supplement the STEM education that the students receive as part of their regular curriculum at their schools.
One of the highlights on the boot camp is an opportunity to build a drone. After a classroom work on the science behind drones and their importance to a variety of fields, the students participate as one group in the assembly of a drone, which they later learn how to operate and fly.
7 [Photo Credit: Projeckt Inspire]
Another highlight of the boot camp is what the organizers call the Science Café. The Science Café consists of a series of talks by leading Tanzanian professionals in STEM fields. Examples of speakers at the café include the following. Professor Morris Agaba, a Tanzanian Ph.D. in genetics from Brunel University in the U.K., speaks about genomics and his research on why giraffes have such long necks. Victoria Makuru, a Tanzanian Ph.D. candidate in biological sciences at the University of Notre Dame in the U.S. talks about her research on malaria. Tony Erick, an expert in drones, lectures on the future of drones in Tanzania to deliver humanitarian aid, such as medicine to dying patients and blood to accident victims.