By Matthew Odu
Supporting STEM education among youths in Africa is essential to the continent’s social and economic development.
STEM education which primarily revolves around Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, has become highly sought after by learners all across the world and is crucial in encouraging a nation’s development.
Recent reports suggest that over the next 5 years, STEM jobs will grow by 13% – particularly in the areas of Computing, Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing.
This shift in the global labour market should be a central focus of African leaders as the United Nation’s (UN) projections show that by 2035, the working population of the continent will surpass that of the rest of the world.
I join the call led by Stefania Giannini, assistant director-general for education at UNESCO – who has asked governments to put education investment at the centre of their post pandemic recovery.
The past 12 months have witnessed the most severe disruption to global education systems in history, which during the peak of the crisis – led to more than 1.6 billion learners out of school. In the global south, school closures are likely to erase decades of progress made by educators.
As education expenditure continues to increase in the west and in the far east, the opposite is true in Africa. Millions of our children are gifted in science, math and physics yet the vast majority are not being given a fair chance to compete in this fast-evolving world. The supply of quality education is lagging behind.
A new report released earlier this week by The Education Finance Watch, jointly commissioned by the World Bank and UNESCO, revealed that two-thirds of low- and lower-middle-income countries have cut their public education budgets since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In comparison, the UK’s Department for Education recently announced a new £700M plan to help young people in England catch up on lost learning due to the pandemic and in 2020, public spending on education in China reached 3,633.7 billion yuan.
“The learning poverty crisis that existed before COVID-19 is becoming even more severe, and we are also concerned about how unequal the impact is,” Mamta Murthi, World Bank vice president for human development, said in a statement.
What is the African response?
Recently many of us have been horrified at the images circulating on social media showing dilapidated school buildings in Nigeria, with no infrastructure being led by teachers who haven’t received salaries in months. This is totally unacceptable and should not be tolerated by the educators on the continent.
During a recent HESED webinar themed ‘Next generation School Leadership’ we engaged with teachers in Nigeria who expressed a willingness to push their students more in the classroom but felt the situation impossible without adequate training, modern infrastructure and an improved curriculum.
Fortunately, Covid-19 has not just brought about the need for change, it also points a way forward and for parents, online learning is one of the bright spots. It is safe to say that the success of online STEM education has made a clear case for adopting a hybrid model.
HESED is an initiative and my own personal contribution to providing quality education to Nigerians, as a borderless structure with an unrestricted curriculum. The e-learning platform complements the current school system by using a national curriculum with the option of studying an international syllabus.
Odu is a Fellow of Institute of Chartered Accountant of Nigeria.