Why Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics matter

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Why Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics matter by  

CHARLES MOLELE

To industrialize and compete with Western Europe and other nations of the world, sub-Saharan Africa – (home to more than one-quarter of the world’s under-25 population) must prioritise school curriculum based on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, according to flamboyant businessman, Simbi Phiri.

In an interview with Inside Education on career guidance, Phiri said the STEM subjects will spawn a new revolution in sub-Saharan Africa that will see learners pursuing careers in the fields of Actuarial Sciences, Petroleum Engineering, Nuclear Engineering, as well as Electronics, Communications Engineering and Aerospace Engineering.

Phiri is Chairman of Khato Civils and South Zambezi, two of Africa’s leading construction, engineering and infrastructure development companies. The companies’ specialty is water and sanitation projects. Headquartered in South Africa, the company boasts a pool of the highest skills and qualifications in terms of qualified professionals with broad experience in areas of fibre optics, mass earthworks, pipelines, water works, roads and concrete works.

South Zambezi specializes in civil and structural engineering and provides services in quantity surveying, architecture and town planning, as well as geotechnical, electrical and mechanical works.

“Until mathematics is taught in our schools we are not going anywhere as a continent. We will remain slaves,” said Phiri. “We need more native Africans in science and mathematics. Every child needs understanding of mathematics. Without maths you cannot imagine distances between us and the stars and other planets.”

Maths an answer to problems

Phiri added that once a learner has studied mathematics, they will be equipped with the capability to do anything in the world.

Recent data issued by the World Economic Forum (WEF) held in Durban, South Africa, show that to prepare for the future of work, sub-Saharan African must expand its high-skilled talent body by developing future-ready curricular with a particular emphasis on STEM education – “increase digital frequency and ICT literacy across the population; provide robust and respected technical and vocational education; and create a culture of life-long learning, including provision of adult training and up-skilling infrastructure.”

The WEF report points out that “it’s critical that Africa takes advantage of new insights that help provide a more comprehensive view of trends within its work force, and develop a network of workers, employers, educators, policymakers and trainers that is responsive and can adapt quickly to change.”

Phiri concurred with the WEF research on up-skilling learners in Africa, arguing that African students should follow STEM degrees at college or universities because they are in high demand across many industries.

“For Africa’s own development, majority of Africans must be in these degrees. Because without these qualifications we will not have pilots, IT specialists, designers, bridge designers … all these careers require mathematics. If we really don’t like the status quo, the first thing is to send our children to school to learn or pursue STEM subjects and obtaining these degrees, in order to go and create jobs … that’s what we need.”

Phiri holds a degree in Construction Management, which he says helped him build his company to where it is today.

“I have taken Construction Management as a qualification, in order to under- stand the engineering business. This has benefitted me because I fully understand the design modes and calculations – for you to calculate you need geometrics and arithmetic …When you are educated, you are able to add value and be well remunerated. When you are remunerated you have less urge for crime.

“You are getting money and sell your services to government or you can even start your own business. Inequality comes because of the knowledge gap – those who know more tend to earn more. Those who know less earn less.

“Education can indeed fight inequality and social problems on the basis that although you may come from a poor background, once you have knowledge you will compete for resources effectively. The real war in the world is for resources. Resources tend to go to those who have more knowledge,” said Phiri.

Africa unite

Phiri has also called on African countries to continue to work together and share various resources to promote sustainability in the African continent. “Africa has abundant water resources, but the tragedy is that many countries do not have the capacity and human resources to harvest and manage such a resource for the benefit of the people…”

Phiri is currently building schools, in order to contribute to the communities that nurtured him as a child. “I am building a school in Nkhoma in Malawi. I have put up a primary school because I believe in education. It’s opening this year. We are currently looking for teachers specializing in mathematics and science – we are emphasizing mathematics and science a lot. It’s a primary school right up to grade 8… I’ve built it for the village of my childhood …”

In total 200 students from the village and surrounding areas will be enrolled, while the laboratory and other facilities are UNESCO-specified.

“For example, we cannot run water and sanitation facilities using foreign engi- neers. It is too costly. We need to have homegrown engineers who have a love for our community. Not passer-by engineers,” said Phiri.

Change the paradigm

The outspoken businessman said African education has been colonial based for far too long and this needs to change as a matter of priority.

“Their (colonial masters) interest was not empowering the native populations. The education system we need, has to free an African child of colonial mentality. They need not look for a job but to create that job. Until we defeat colonial imperatives, only Europeans can become enterpreneurs. We should start our own conglomerates, clothing lines and factories. Mathematics and IT is the future. Without being on the information highway any kid today is as good as a cattle-herder in the 1940s.”

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