THE FUTURE

Entrenching STEM education in Africa

Kenya, like most African countries, continues to face immense challenges in this field.

In Summary

• With key learnings from industrial and tech giants such as China, different sectors are now realigning themselves to emerging global trends.

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Future of Jobs report, the roles that are set to experience increasing demand in 10 years include data analysts and scientists, software and applications developers, and e-commerce and social media specialists. These roles are significantly based on and enhanced by the use of technology.

The report further finds extensive evidence of an accelerating demand for a variety of wholly new specialist roles related to understanding and leveraging the latest emerging technologies, including AI and machine learning specialists, big data specialists, process automation experts, information security analysts, user experience and human-machine interaction designers, robotics engineers, and blockchain specialists.

If you critically analyse these roles, they all have a component of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) at the heart of their function. This goes further to show the critical position of STEM at the centre of Kenya’s ability to attain Vision 2030.

Yet Kenya, like most African countries, continues to face immense challenges in the field of STEM at all levels of education — primary, secondary and tertiary — in terms of performance, enrolment and gender disparity. Research into the declining quality of STEM across Africa has blamed this on challenges such as poverty, inadequate funding, lack of interest from students, unqualified or untrained teachers, inadequate learning aids and incessant strikes or industrial actions. 

The InterswitchSPAK competition was in April this year and was open to Form 3 students in public and private secondary schools with a special interest in the STEM subjects.

To address the gap and to prepare the continent for the future, stakeholders in the education sector must take urgent and decisive action to encourage the uptake of STEM subjects from an early age by showing students their significance and bright career prospects.

With key learnings from industrial and tech giants such as China, different sectors are now realigning themselves to emerging global trends here in Kenya and are likely to increase job opportunities offers to STEM students. The challenge now is for us to inspire students from a young age to pursue STEM-oriented subjects with a sound purpose to reduce skill shortages in the future and help Kenya realise a sustainable economy.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, about 60 percent of Kenya’s population is under the age of 25, making it one of the most promising potential workforces. Promotion of STEM education is a much-needed initiative to encourage well-rounded education essential for Kenyan students and address the imbalance in our education systems. High schools have a particular responsibility to introduce, inspire and encourage the youth to a range of possible career options.

With such opportunity, organisations in the technology space like ourselves are increasingly taking a leading role in the promotion of STEM education in Africa considering their important role to development as elucidated above. At Interswitch, we have taken up the challenge by unveiling InterswitchSPAK competition, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, which gives secondary schools in the 47 counties a chance to nominate their best six Form 3 STEM students for the competition.

These are not just the future scientists but the future of our thriving business community at large who will solve problems and sustain businesses that will grow the Kenyan and African economy at large.

We launched this competition in April this year, which was open to Form 3 students in public and private secondary schools with a special interest in the STEM subjects. The competition will culminate with the winner receiving a scholarship worth Sh1.5million, a laptop, signage for their school while the first and second runners up will get Sh750,000 and Sh150,000 and a laptop each.

For the two months, we have gone around schools across the country to familiarise the competition and the level of interest is encouraging. Overall, 1,498 students from across the country registered for the competition with secondary schools in the Rift Valley registering the highest number of students at 372, followed by Nyanza (353), Central (213), Western (162), Eastern (139), Nairobi (139), Coast (114) and North Eastern (six).

These are not just the future scientists but the future of our thriving business community at large who will solve problems and sustain businesses that will grow the Kenyan and African economy at large.

While this may look a small number, it is not given the little time we have had to publicise the competition. We also got many late applications to the competition and we are excited about the immense interest such incentives help to generate among teachers and students. Additionally, students derive maximum benefit from their participation and meeting their counterparts from other countries. Such experiences are never in vain.

Next year, we aim to make the competition even bigger and it is our hope that more partners can join in the effort to grow its scale and reach.