“THERE is need to equip learners with knowledge skills and values that guarantee economic growth, and increase opportunities for employment creation, well-rounded citizens, who are relevant nationally and competitive globally,” President Robert Mugabe said.
These are words of inspiration indeed, from the horse’s mouth, aimed at bringing the new impetus to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) education in Zimbabwe. The success of any country, economically and technologically is deeply rooted in how countries give prominence to the teaching of the above highlighted critical subjects.
The government went further to assure the nation that it, “will pay for tuition of students studying science subjects,” according to the Minister of Higher, Tertiary Education and Technology Jonathan Moyo. The assertions by the two prominent politicians on the Zimbabwean political landscape are equally empowering and therapeutic. But it is the euphoria that greeted the two announcements, which came from mostly the tertiary institutions of higher learning in Zimbabwe, from teachers’ colleges to universities, which is somewhat disempowering and confusing. A stampede for advertising space was in the Sunday Mail edition of February 7, 2016. Colleges and universities out-manoeuvred each other in trying to justify that they are indeed Stem compliant. If it was a matter of coincidence, or purely the love of Stem, or none of the above, then may God bless this land of Zimbabwe?
While it is already a given and something that is arguably incontestable that Stem subjects are the lifeline, the arteries and veins that transport sustainable economic solutions of any given country, l do believe that the teaching of these subjects should not be promoted in the context of fear, impulsivity and anxiety but gradually and sustainable. Our tried and tested institutions of higher learning, need not behave as if they have not been teaching these subjects before.
Their feverish attempts in the Press to justify that they are very Stem-compliant, to say the least, serve to raise more eyebrows and questions on whether they are seriously Stem-compliant or they are trying to please a certain constituency.These adverts, although noble, may not fool or deceive any serious-minded people, who need to see the country moving forward and conquer perennial national problems like inherent power shortages and underperforming agricultural and mechanisation. Parroting the Stem initiative for the sake of grandstanding or glossing will only help to expose skeletons in their cupboards. Of course not all tertiary institutions are guilty of this vice but many of them are not genuine in their advertisements. As such, the truth will expose them in the near future.
In my own view, for the country to overcome the problems highlighted above, they should make Stem sustainable and long lasting through integrating it with climate change, in order to promote renewable energy and green energy technologies that we all desperately need. The attainment of these will actually move the country from perennial power shortages, underperforming agriculture and mechanisation as well as other economic gaps. The working knowledge of science and mathematics will be integrated with the science of renewable energy from primary, secondary to tertiary institutions of higher learning. Since we are in the process of implementing the COP 21 Paris resolutions and gradually moving towards the attainment of the renewable energy capacities, the Stem point of view is quite significant in this regard.
The other fundamental issue is how much time is allocated to the teaching of the Stem subjects. Stem fundamentals need to be well-streamlined and incorporated within the climate science literacy, especially that of green technologies for future power generations. These also include issues of rehabilitating the country’s obsolete scientific equipment in schools, which needs urgent replacement together with upgrading of the laboratories for the sustainable implementation of Stem. The sustainable implementation of Stem should also lead to a paperless academic setting to be replaced by state-of-the-art ICT equipment.
Countries such as Japan, Germany, USA, UK, China and many others did not achieve Stem supremacy overnight or haphazardly through lipstick rewards and incentives.
The results that these countries are currently enjoying are a result of long-term planning and firm foundations based on mutual trust, where relevant and critical ministries in the mainstreaming of Stem initiatives pull in one direction without leaving others behind. Critical aspects of renewable energy like solar and wind power can be taught in relation to Stem applications. Then scientific and engineering methodologies within Stem need to be integrated with green energy technologies. Since Stem approaches can be proven, they are, therefore, more effective for climate science education.
Critical funding for scientific high-fliers should not be compromised, as that will lead Stem to the same fate suffered by other national high sounding blue-prints, one of which is ZimAsset, which is in danger of failing not because of lack of funding but poor interpretation even at high levels. The Stem approaches would also accelerate the effectiveness of the country’s energy and management policies in adapting to the impacts of environmental and climate change. The integration of Stem with climate science research would usher new frontiers in programmes that address issues of sustainability. The research initiatives should not leave out fundamental lifelines of interdisciplinarity, thereby, lowering the rigid disciplinary barriers that currently exist in this country’s major universities. Some of these big name universities are still offering programmes that are fossilised and would qualify for archaeological excavations.
The interaction of Stem programmes with renewable energy and green energy technologies would see the establishment of institutional think-tanks along the lines of Stem transformation and revamp.
lPeter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his own capacity and can be contacted on: firstname.lastname@example.org