Africa’s Future Relies on STEM Education

STEM which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics was identified five years back by has a great influence on how the future of Africa would look like.

Fast forward to 2017, CNBC Africa confirmed that a recent Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics report predicted that by 2020, 80 percent of all future jobs will require a STEM education. With the African population set to increase by 450 million by 2035

Marieme Jamme, a techpreneur and Founder of Iamthecode reported on Huffpost that back in 2013, a few organizations as part of their ICT programs, either as their way of investment on education, or as a way of promoting technology and innovation. Each year, the United States invests billions in STEM education and workforce development; they know that over 70 percent of their domestic and international jobs will require core STEM skills.

The African continent hasn’t got a robust strategic plan on STEM policies, or even a clear road map or framework of implementing them effectively. It is not even clear if some national leaders understand their importance or meanings. Consider for a second, the exploitation of Africa’s natural resources such as bauxite in Guinea and Ghana. If the governments had a clear strategy on STEM policies, more cartographers could be drawing maps locally rather than outsourcing it in Europe. If we had many well-trained engineers, they could operate machines and build railroads and motorways. If we invested in R&D with our own scientists, we will able to prevent diseases like Ebola. If we invested in our tech entrepreneurs and innovators we will be able to resolve local problems with local solutions; instead China and the U.S. are doing this for Africa with a hidden price.

This infrastructure building convenience is actually destroying the ability for African governments to invest in STEM for the future. We surely want to have smooth roads in Lagos, Lusaka, Nairobi or Maputo, but if we do not insist that our people be given solid STEM skills, surely we will be losing out as a continent.

Currently in Africa, most STEM jobs are performed by or outsourced to multinationals from China, India and the U.S. In 2014, 87 construction teams arrived in Kenya from China to ensure the construction of the Standard Gauge railway in Kenya. Most Kenyans could not do the job.

Africa will need a new generation of accountants, auditors, creators, makers, designers, mathematics and science teachers, engineers and so on — all these jobs required a minimum of skills in STEM. Who is thinking of this now in Africa? Who is taking this seriously? Marieme Jamme asked.

African governments are signing infrastructure contracts with the West, but hardly demanding for their future workforce to be trained in something I find so crucial for its development. Thousands of Americans and Chinese are working annually in Africa in high skilled STEM jobs that are reducing African ingenuity. Then people complain about a lack of jobs for youth — so basically the African professional class has been severely challenged, if not completely prevented by some construction and mining companies.

The term STEM is not yet widely understood in Africa; its implementation within the education systems is catastrophically poor despite the fact that many ICT ministers collect millions for programs related to these subjects.

You just need to spend time in the corridors of the Ministries of Education and ICT in Africa to realize that the word STEM is not simply jargon that allows them to fund-raise and make themselves look like they are part of the conversation. In fact we are nowhere near what need to be done for our youth — and they are the future of Africa.

Companies in Africa are already struggling to find skilled employees with STEM knowledge. Over the next decade, African employers could expect to have many thousands of job openings requiring basic STEM literacy and more people will need advanced STEM knowledge.

Today, Rwanda and South Africa are the only countries that have successfully been looking at this subject, Marieme Jamme said.

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is pushing for more awareness on STEM Subject through TechWomen.

The British Council is piloting micro programs across Africa through the Global innovation Fund to increase awareness on STEM, but the reality is all these programs are more focused on teaching the English language than real STEM subjects.

The barrier many African governments have in promoting STEM subjects is the lack of qualified people in these subjects. And until they address this problem will remain.

Africa is crying out for skilled young people in every single country. The mismatch between their current skills and what the companies need is getting wider. Youth unemployment is extremely high. The International Labour Organization estimates that between 2000 and 2008 Africa created 73 million jobs, but only 16 million for young people aged between 15 and 24. As a result, many young Africans find themselves unemployed or, more frequently, underemployed in informal jobs with low productivity and pay. Of Africa’s unemployed, 60 percent are young people and youth unemployment rates are double those of adult unemployment in most African countries. Millions of young people could find jobs if our STEM policies were given priority. 

Trained STEM graduates are great contributors to the African economy. While Africa makes up 15 percent of the world population, its research and development capacity is untapped. The governments could do so much by looking into their education policies and making STEM subjects their number one priority — this will also hugely improve Africa’s position in the globally competitive knowledge economy.