Why a STEM Fund is Important for Africa

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BELMONT, Massachusetts — Staying at the forefront of today’s global economy requires a workforce trained in science, technology, engineering and math. While STEM initiatives in developing countries vary in scope, size, funding sources and target population, having a unified fund to promote these areas is a crucial growth driver.

“According to the UNESCO science report 2010, African countries had an average of 164 researchers per million people in 2007, more than six times lower than the world average of 1,081 researchers per million.”

The consequences of limited STEM funding range from the inability of universities to retain science lecturers, to set up and maintain well equipped laboratories and to provide scholarships for low income students interested in science and technology.

According to the 2010 UNESCO Science Report and the 2012 OECD Science, Technology and Industry Outlook, Africa’s contribution in the area of research and development is very low, totaling 1 percent of the world’s investment in research and development and 1.5 percent of global scientific publications. This is accompanied by the grim reality of professional exodus, with a figure of 20,000 skilled workers a year since 1990. This rate has remained consistent since then despite an increase in external funding sources.

The availability of funding sources is not, however, the sole issue. Indeed, the European Union provides funding to Africa that adds up to the same amount given to Latin America and Asia combined.

“Constantly injecting money into African research without prioritizing investment in its wider scientific ecosystem by supporting infrastructure development is proving to be a short-sighted and limited solution for expanding Africa’s role in global science and addressing the continent’s economic and social concerns.”

The idea of a global STEM fund was proposed by Fanuel Muindi and Moytrayee Guha, which would unify existing national and international funding sources. However, to elevate the impact of such an initiative would require investment by governments, NGOs, private firms and academic institutions.

Muindi and Guha argue that there are many organizations that stand to benefit from this initiative. To mention a few: the NGO Cosmos Education, the STEM Innovation Camp in South Africa, the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences and the Bunengi STEM Africa.

Besides the unification of financial support for STEM initiatives, a global fund provides other solutions for the promotion of science. A STEM fund also promises to increase accessibility and quality of science education. Another problem that can be addressed through a global fund is quality improvement and centralization of data on existing science and technology programs.

Centralization of data would also allow the continuous monitoring and updating of data to understand what works and what does not. This is also a measure that addresses the duplication of programs and cuts waste.

This allows for a number of programs with similar goals to come together and work around a central mission. “One example is the 100Kin10 initiative in the United States, which hosts more than 150 organizations that share the goal of training 100,000 new STEM teachers by 2021.”

Putting science and engineering on the right track in Africa will depend on the ability of governments and other major stakeholders to work together to improve accessibility and quality of STEM education. This will also be a matter of making the right decisions to fit global and national goals.

Sources: All Africa, Issues in Science and Technology, SciDevNet
Photo: Climate Ark News

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