STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education is increasingly recognised as a driver of economic performance, which is essential in helping developing countries compete in the global market, create jobs and create lives and livelihoods.
This is according to University of Cape Town (UCT) Chancellor Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe who gave the keynote address during Harvard University Center for African Studies’ (CAS) inaugural “Partnerships in STEM Innovation and Future Africa” virtual research symposium this month.
Moloi-Motsepe said the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is in full swing, and that it is crucial for Africa to claim its place as not only an equal partner and contributor, but also as a leader in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as the arts.
“There are many young people in Africa are slipping through the cracks of education systems that are simply not up to scratch,” said Moloi-Motsepe.
The UCT chancellor said almost 60% of Africa’s youth between the ages of 15 and 17 are not enrolled in school, while less than 4% of people across Africa have a university degree.
“Furthermore, among currently enrolled students, less than 25% are pursuing STEM qualifications. The African Union estimates that 70 000 skilled professionals emigrate from Africa every year to pursue economic opportunities in Europe and America,” she said.
“Increased promotion of STEM and the available opportunities in the labour market can create necessary working opportunities that can fulfil the aspiration of Africa’s growing population,” said Moloi-Motsepe.
Adding that in response to this crisis, the African Union (AU) has prioritised education, particularly education underpinned by science, technology and innovation in its Agenda 2063.
Moloi-Motsepe said the AU aspires that by 2063 Africa will be a continent of well-educated and skilled citizens.
“In this knowledgeable society, it will be the norm that no child misses school due to poverty,” she said.
According to the AU, union member states spend at least 1% of their gross domestic product on research and development that will enhance STEM innovation.
The World Bank stated that the economic and social prosperity of countries depends on the state of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This is why, according to research, these fields of research can provide for a deeper understanding of problems in the African context and an opportunity for new discoveries by researchers to solve challenges and advance future development.
Moloi-Motsepe also spoke about the importance of tapping into the knowledge already available on the continent. She said in order to promote much-needed collaboration and knowledge-sharing to benefit Africa and other developing nations, it is important for Africa to collaborate and work in partnership with leading global innovators to reduce its reliance on imported innovation.
Moloi-Motsepe also said that the arts and humanities are as important to development and innovation as the STEM fields. Adding that to equip Africa’s youth with skills that suit the future of work and skills, the interaction between STEM subjects and the humanities needs to be recognised as critical for navigating the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
“We need to break down the silos between these academic fields. The interaction between STEM subjects and the humanities needs to be recognised as critical for navigating the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” she said.