By Clifford Cotiak Akumu
Abdallah Zakaria, 12, a class seven pupil at Shepherds Junior School-Buru Buru is on a rush against time to finish his task as the trainer stealthily walks past him to check his progress.
“It is hard at first but fun after mastering the pattern,” he sighs as he glues together the model.
“Here we are coming up with models like engineers. You are free to assemble the parts in a different manner, as long as you end up with a catapult,” says the soft-spoken Zakaria who wants to become architecture in future.
Zakaria is part of a group attending a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) challenge and training organized by leading social enterprises in Nairobi recently.
The founders of Little Innovators, Discovery Centre and STEM Challenge Kenya have partnered with an aim of addressing socio-cultural and institutional challenges that dampen young learners from taking up the critical disciplines.
Nuru Luhindi, Chief Executive Officer and founder Little Innovators School, a social enterprise that nurtures young entrepreneurial and leadership talent said encouraging young leaners to take up STEM-oriented subjects is key in stimulating deployment of disruptive technologies across key sectors of the economy.
Juma noted that equipping the next generation with skills of the future is poised to aid in achieving the government’s big four agenda.
“We are already seeing major technological developments in health, affordable housing and food security. In fact, the government’s big four agenda and STEM are inseparable,”
“We continue to see drones being used in agriculture to predict pests and diseases incidences,” Juma said during the April STEM launch in Nairobi.
The three-day event organized by social enterprises will boost digital literacy among children and youth. The trainees will undergo problem solving and creativity activities, psychometric test for career matching and critical thinking among others.
A recent report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) dubbed Future of Jobs Survey (2018) revealed top skills that the job market will demand by the year 2022.
The survey indicates that one of the most trending skills come 2022 will be analytical thinking and innovation.
Juma thinks giving opportunity to young minds to learn how to solve real life problems is key in closing the skills gap. Agonizingly, Africa still scores poorly when it comes to number of trained scientists.
In a bid to address this, many African countries are investing in STEM research and education, with the African Union encouraging its members to spend 1 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product on these disciplines.
In Kenya, a new report by Mercy Corps and Moringa School, IT Skills Gap Report states that number of IT professionals in employment alone, will grow to 95,000 in 2022 from 57,000 in 2017. And in Uganda, over the same period; the figures will grow from 28,500 to 43,400.
The report further reveals that in three years’ time, Kenya’s ICT sector will be valued at Sh172.6 billion ($1.7 billion), while Uganda’s will be at Sh131.89 billion ($1.3 billion).
Unlike in school, at the STEM Challenge Camp, explains Malkia, we are really tested with hands on experience to find out whether we are able to perform a task.
They are not alone. Young generations like them have been urged to reskill as the next level career will be driven by technology.
Experts believe, to secure employment in future, there is an urgent need to deliver new skills for today’s workforce as well as designing education for the future workforce.
Stephen Kiiyuru, software project manager at Discovery Centre, a Nairobi-based social enterprise said encouraged parents to allow their children to discover new technological solutions.
Citing mindset change as the major challenge affecting most learners, the science communicator further urged the government to set up innovation hubs through public-private partnerships to spur growth in the technology space.
“We should encourage children and youth to embrace science related subjects that will redefine the 21st century workplace,” said Kiiyuru.
“The young learners require mentorship to ensure they are conversant with innovations that are disrupting the way our economy functions,” he added.
Micheal Ng’ang’a an expert with Young Scientists Kenya urged STEM students to use the exposure and leaning to discover solutions aimed at turning the country’s economy around.
“Use this opportunity to discover your talents,”Ng’ang’a told the students. And, in time, Juma hopes they can provide a new source of platform to help mothers build healthy relationship and develop career choices of the future for their children.
“Eventually we would hope to change the mindset of learners on STEM-related disciplines,” she says.