In January 2016 the Government of Zimbabwe launched the STEM campaign, in which it announced its commitment to financially and materially supporting students that register for STEM subjects at tertiary level. All this in an attempt to encourage the development of STEM skills as a key part of Zimbabwe’s long term capital objectives. As part of the campaign, students studying STEM stand a chance to win an opportunity to visit Microsoft and Silicon Valley firms to gain exposure in hopes to fuel innovation in Zimbabwe. However, unfortunate it may be, the ordinary person on the street does not know what STEM means.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and STEM subjects are the vital backbone of any country. We interact with STEM in our everyday lives and it has a profound impact on how we perceive and understand the world around us. Science is the natural world such as the sun, oceans, weather, nature, animals and plants. Technology is not only computers and robots but includes television and radio. Engineering skills helps design buildings, roads and machines that make up our modern day cities. Mathematics influences our lives in banking, tax and investments.
Support for STEM education is necessary because through STEM applications we get a better understanding of the world we live in and it is also through STEM that we enjoy the conscience of the technologies we have become so fond of. STEM aims to apply all the subjects to real life situations and a typical lesson involves practical activities, finding solutions to a real world problems and it tends to favour project based learning. All this expands student’s critical thinking skills, which is necessary innovation and ingenuity.
Armed with this knowledge and understanding, Higherlife Foundation through the Research Policy and Advocacy team decided to actively participate in ensuring that the general populace gets an appreciation of STEM. On the 2nd of March 2016 Higherlife Foundation, in collaboration with Bindura University of Science in Education (BUSE), UNESCO and the Ministry of Education held a half day conference at Bindura University of Science in Education, which was aimed at kick starting the discussion on how Zimbabwe can utilize STEM for sustainable development. The theme of the conference was, ‘Unlocking STEM for Sustainable Development in Africa” and it was well attended with representatives of educators, students, policy makers, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, for-profit organizations, captains of industries and researchers showing up.
The keynote speech was delivered by Professor Flavia Schlegel who is UNESCO’s Assistant Director General – Natural Sciences and she further took advantage of the conference to launch the UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030, UNESCO Zimbabwe STI (science, technology & innovation) Country Profile.
Dr. Kennedy Mubaiwa and Mrs. Gandiya represented Higherlife Foundation during the round table dialogue which in Dr. Mubaiwa stated that Higherlife Foundation has allocated 70% of its scholarships to STEM subjects. In addition, he made it clear to the audience that the Ruzivo smart learning platform curriculum and content has a STEM focus.
BUSE Vice Chancellor, Professor E Mwenje, also presented the findings of a desk and field research survey report titled ‘A Diagnostic Study on Otatus of STEM in Zimbabwe’ conducted by BUSE Professors C Gadzirayi, C Bhukuvhani, Dr. P Bongo and HLF’s Research Policy & Advocacy unit senior associate’s Obrian Ruyimbe & Tolbert Mucheri. This report will play a critical role in helping policy makes understand the current position of STEM in Zimbabwe.
Other nuggets from the conference included a need to increase the number of women and youth who participate in STEM, as well as a need for the Zimbabwean government to create opportunities and employment in Zimbabwe to retain STEM skills.
Higherlife Foundation was a key partner and instrumental to the execution of the conference. ADG Prof Flavia stated that it is imperative for organizations such as Higherlife Foundation to play a supportive role as the success of such initiatives crucially depends on it.