Africa’s transformation is directly tied to a radical boost in access to STEM education
One of the great passions of my life has been empowering young people by providing them with the opportunities to gain the right skills to succeed. If we invest in youth and equip them with the necessary leadership skills, they can creatively solve problems and ultimately contribute to the growth and development of their communities, economies and societies. It is a cause that motivates me as I witness young men and women reaching their potential and proactively solving their local challenges. The question that often comes to mind is:
Are we preparing the next generation to capitalize on the incredible transformation taking root in Africa? Only in part. I don’t think this is happening fast enough.
The past fifteen years have seen Africa experience phenomenal economic growth. In 2015, sub-Saharan Africa’s average GDP is projected to be 4.5 per cent. The Asia and Pacific region follows at 4.3 percent. North America stands at 3.2 per cent, and Western Europe at 1.4 per cent. Africa’s share of global GDP is expected to rise from 1.4 to 4 per cent by 2020. Nine of the top twenty fastest growing economies in 2014 were in Africa. These include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, Congo (Brazzaville), Burkina Faso and Rwanda. These economies grew on average between six and eight per cent. Even though in recent months we have seen commodities and the extractive industries see softening demand, mature African economies are actually weathering the storm due to more diversified sources of commerce including strong financial services, tourism, and telecommunications and manufacturing sectors.
In the meantime, Africa is largely considered to be the “youngest” continent. Fifteen per cent of the world’s population is African and by 2050, it will be a quarter. Also by 2050, forty per cent of the world’s population aged eighteen and under will reside in Africa. In light of the recent unrest in South Africa which was rooted in socio-economic inequalities, it is clear that unemployment, poverty and economic disenfranchisement cannot be a reality for Africa’s ever-growing youth. This means that more options for individual success and continental prosperity need to be explored. I believe that an investment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education is the answer.
Africa needs more well-trained engineers, scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs to propel and sustain the continent’s development, capitalize on its youth’s talent, and solve local problems with African solutions. According to the International Labour Organization, Africa will need to create 18 million jobs every year to overcome its youth unemployment. To achieve this, we will need radical solutions to ensure that Africa’s growth is equitable, secure and sustainable. We need to partner with inspired governments that invest in equitable access to STEM education to ensure we put our best and brightest to the task and raise our productivity across the continent.
The World Bank 2014 report “A Decade of Development in Sub-Saharan African STEM Research” noted that the percentage of growth in research in Africa is higher than any other continent. It also found that between 2003 and 2012, African researchers more than doubled their outputs, producing papers on subjects ranging from HIV, to cancer, climate change and ageing. Despite these advances, the research produced out of Africa still accounts for less than one per cent of world research output and STEM research accounts for less than twenty nine per cent. We need to encourage talented youth to pursue STEM education because the difference between the developed and developing world is technical and scientific mastery that spurs innovation and wellbeing for local communities. This is why AIMS was founded in 2003.
AIMS is Africa’s first network of centres of excellence in mathematical sciences. It has five centres of excellence across Africa: in South Africa, Ghana, Cameroon, Senegal and Tanzania. We have graduated more than 700 Masters level students in mathematical sciences from forty two countries in Africa, of which thirty per cent are women. We are reinventing the university model through our live-together, learn-together environment, which brings women and men from across Africa together for a year. During this time, the students collaborate daily, enabling students from different cultures, backgrounds and religions to see each other’s capabilities. We are innovative in our approach. For example, our partnership with the MasterCard Foundation will enable 500 academically talented yet financially disadvantaged students to pursue their Master’s level education in STEM through a unique Co-Op Program. It will also support the creation of a teacher training program which will improve the quality of secondary-level math and science teaching in Cameroon. The work of our alumni is gaining worldwide recognition. Chika Yinka-Banjo, an AIMS South Africa 2010 alumni, is using mathematical sciences models to create robotic inspection equipment to improve mining safety.
Our goals are to train Africa’s future mathematical scientists; invest in curiosity-driven science and discoveries that respond to African and global challenges; grow the pipeline of STEM students by engaging their teachers; and launch the Next Einstein Forum, Africa’s first science forum. We are committed to Africa becoming a science leader and to catalyzing its transformation. Our model sees seventy per cent of our students remain on African soil, filling positions in academic institutions and, through our industry initiative, joining the private sector in ICT, finance, resource development, health amongst other high-demand sectors With less than twenty five per cent of students choosing STEM fields at university level in Africa, we also believe we can raise this amount by reaching teachers at the primary and secondary school levels.
Albert Einstein said, “The aim of education must be the training of independently acting and thinking individuals who, however, see in the service to the community their highest life problem.” I believe that what we are doing at AIMS is exactly what he imagined. We are preparing a generation of scientific leaders who embrace their mastery in mathematical sciences to serve their communities in the wake of Africa’s transformation. I believe the next Einstein will be African. If we commit to a continuous investment in STEM education, we will rise to the challenge, and in turn Africa will keep rising for all of her people.
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