Why STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) is a Smart Choice to Boost Africa’s Economy Today

STEM education key to driving Africa's economy

Why STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) is a Smart Choice to Boost Africa’s Economy Today

STEM education key to driving Africa's economy

STEM. The new buzzword standing for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It’s a strong word that hasn’t been embraced with much fervor in Africa during the last few years as one would expect, least of all considering much of the continent’s growth depends on those four initials.

The thing is though, STEM should not be used as just another fancy word to make organizations look all trendy and au fait in their reports. Nor should it be used to mask the failure to help the emerging workforce while in actual sense there lacks clear and tangible plans in place to do so.

Looking at developed economies such as the United States, for example, the money invested each year in STEM education and workforce development runs into billions of dollars. And the reasoning is simple: they are well aware that the bulk of their domestic and international jobs will necessitate core STEM skills.

This is not something that could be said of African states, most of which lack a solid strategic plan on STEM policies, or even a clear roadmap for effective policy implementation. As much as this is not intended as a dig on the leadership, it would be suffice to say some leaders have no inkling of the importance or meaning of STEM policies.

Ideas Matter

The secret behind the economic prosperity of most industrialized nations has hinged upon a simple, albeit profound, fact: ideas matter. And their constant push and breakthroughs in the fields of STEM is to thank for that prosperity.

It is an area that Africa has lagged behind for far too long, although most states seem to have had an epiphany that is resulting to a change of approach. I say an epiphany because ever since most countries wrestled their independence from their colonizers in the 1950s and ‘60s, the focus has mostly been on fields such as humanities, administration and law. And for good reason.

At the time, African countries needed to fill the void left by the colonialists. Today though, as much as the continent cannot divorce itself from those fields in toto, the tectonic plates of education have gradually shifted beneath. In this modern world we live in, STEM subjects fly the flag of development and will continue to for the foreseeable future.

Take the year 2015, for instance. According to UNESCO, sub-Saharan Africa needed to produce 2.5 million new technicians and engineers if it were to meet its MDGs (Millennium Development Goals). Problem is, the infamous African brain drain continues to be felt heavily as most of the continent’s engineers ply their trade in the United States as opposed to home.

In the same breath, six years before that, the continent boasted less than 2,000 PhD holders [PDF] in mathematical sciences. Compare that to industrialized economies like the United Kingdom which are heavily reliant on mathematical sciences [PDF] and you begin to understand why the disparity in growth and development buy provigil canadian pharmacy continues to persist.

A Future of STEM

There is no doubt that African countries are on the right track with respect to development.

In the last decade alone, more kilometers of road have been laid in many countries than had been accomplished since independence. Child mortality rate has drastically reduced from the scourge it was during the ‘90s; so has maternal mortality and fatal illnesses like malaria, cholera and TB.

ICT is developing at an enviable rate, with the continent’s entrepreneurs behind some novel solutions, especially those to do with agriculture and health, two of the most critical fields in sub-Saharan African.

Overall, the economic growth curves of most countries seem to be on a positive trajectory, with promise of a better tomorrow.

But scratch beneath the rosy economic figures and you will realize there lurks a bigger problem that needs to be addressed. And addressed quick. While some local entrepreneurs are leading the way in providing great tech solutions, most work dependent on STEM is outsourced to multinationals in China, India and the U.S.

Thousands of Chinese, Indians and Americans are contracted annually on the continent to work not just on infrastructural projects, but also in highly-skilled STEM jobs. The developments are clear, true, but it can be deceiving on the surface. The truth is this is coming at a detriment to the continent through a loss of ingenuity, lack of jobs for the youth and the trillions of dollars paid out to the foreign expats and their organizations.

The repercussions of this may not be immediately evident at present, but fast-forward 15, 20, 25 years from now and the continent might as well become a case study for holding so much promise that was never realized. Assuming this trend goes on unchecked.

If Africa is to realize her economic potential, more needs to be done, starting with a greater emphasis on STEM literacy. The ability is there, alright, but both government and private sector need to plough more into STEM education.

At the heart of this potential economic success will be an inclusion of women and youth into the fold, two demographics that have often been overlooked, especially when it comes to advanced STEM skills.

Because over the next several years, most employment opportunities (especially in economies that are still developing) will rely on skills touching on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And African states cannot outsource every related job opening to foreigners; foreigners who cannot be relied upon to solve local problems any better than local scientists, entrepreneurs, innovators and mathematicians can.

Africa need not look any further than developed nations and emerging economies to realize the impact the billions invested into STEM education and workforce development have had on those economies.

Paper over the cracks much longer and the future will be bleak. Make no mistake about it.

Unoma Okorafor

Dr. Unoma Okorafor is the founder of WAAW Foundation. She is a passionate social entrepreneur committed to empowering girls in African through STEM focused education.

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