STEM: Another stray bullet
AFRICA is an interesting continent, but one of many inconsistencies and paradoxes. The continent has vast natural resources, which is vaunts and brags about to the whole world and yet its people remain the poorest in a world where other continents are light years away in terms of living standards.
Even the fact that Africa does not need to accidentally stumble at the right economic success algorithm as other continents like North America and Europe did has done nothing much to bring Africa closure to the right formula for accelerated, sustainable economic development and growth.
While other continents have their nose on the goal for improving their economies, Africa is still stuck in the past, blaming colonialism, accusing other continents for Africa’s failures, playing to the gallery and bragging about its natural resources as well as funding for anything no matter how immaterial to project an image of a fast developing continent.
The outside world is not helping the situation by fooling Africa with false evidence that Africa is indeed coming out of its economic woods when in fact the continent’s trajectory is taking it deeper into the woods. We are told Africa is rising when in fact, Africa is sinking and most Africans would avoid the reality and believe in fairy tales they are creating with the help of the outside world. When is Africa going to awaken?
Africa is a junk yard of grandiose ideas and initiatives that never moved the continent any inch towards the right direction. Examples include the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, The United States of Africa, the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme, Vision 2020 and so forth. Within African countries the story is the same; no effort or initiative is ever carried through to the end. Governments come up with come initiatives in the form of policies, plants and blue prints and the majority of these disappear as soon as the launching ceremony is over. The remaining once just phase out of the public space and then another initiative pops up and follows the same cycle.
These phenomena of just starting turnaround programmes and abandoning them is not limited to governments, many donor organisations do the same. It is always one pilot project after the other and the program ends once the pilot phase is finished. Then comes another pilot phase, or another programme and the whole cycle goes on. Africa is always beginning things and never finishing any one of them and that is a serious problem.
As I write this article, Africa is now on another drive. Suddenly, Africa has seen the light and the light is that for Africa to develop, it must focus on science technology engineering and mathematics, the so-called Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). This is a nice concept indeed to play around with and with a cool sounding acronym. On the surface of it, it makes great sense to say that science technology engineering and mathematics are key to economic development, but the real story of accelerating economic development is not as simple as having more scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians.
The problem is Africa is taking this issue too far and to unrealistic levels.
Firstly, Africa is treating all this issue as if there has never been science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in our schools and universities.
They are treating STEM as if it is a novel idea. This is false. As we speak, there are hundreds of thousands of African scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians in Africa.
Secondly, Africa must get real on this matter; trying to marshal students who lack the natural intellectual orientation and motivation towards science, technology, engineering and mathematics is a complete waste of time. The key to success is not numbers but quality. It is no use spending resources and wasting people’s time by focusing in areas where they may not excel after all.
Thirdly, Africa never learns. The problem of Africa is not shortage of human resources in any field; the problem is poor use of its own human talent. As I write, Africa is spending resources training and developing scientists, technologists, engineers and scientist for other continents that are more adept at recognising, attracting, utilising and keeping the scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians. Do you homework and you will see how many scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians are working in Europe, America, Asia and Australia.
Fourthly, the idea that having more scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians in Africa or in any country accelerate the economic growth of that country has neither scientific basis. A continent can have all its inhabitants become scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians and still fail dismally on the economic front. The key is not about having many scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians. The key is knowing exactly how to utilise the scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians you have.
As I write, many countries in Africa have many high quality scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians who are roaming the streets because the countries have no capacity to use them productively. Most of are fleeing to Europe, America, Asia and Australia where they feel they get better recognition, appreciation, job satisfaction and better rewards that they get in their Africa.
Africa is not short in scientists, technologist, engineers and mathematics; it is lacking in strategic capacity, innovation, culture, attitude, mindset, focus, competitiveness and effective utilisation of its scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematics. Africa has no coherent economic development strategy of its own and it has a disease of lurching on to any new initiative that comes from other places like America, Europe and so on and try to introduce them as new and original.
The problem is Africa, unlike Europe, has no capacity to utilise the outputs of its STEM and, because of that, the products of African STEM in Africa will help Europe, Asia and Australia more than it well help Africa as is the current trend with Africa’s education.
I propose instead of STEM, Africa must be focusing on SICARMMELT (strategy, Innovation, culture, attitude, resourcefulness, mindset, management, entrepreneurship, leadership and thinking). If STEM is all about having more people passing through the academic mill, I can predict that the return on that effort will be extremely poor.
Simon Bere is a metastrategist, peak performance scientist and breakthrough results specialist. He is the chairperson of The Strategy Society, community interested in strategy and its application at personal, business
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