Six ways to overcome the STEM crisis in South Africa

Worldwide, careers of the future will be STEM-based. Whether you live in the US, India, the UK or Africa, a solid STEM education will get you places. However, the World Economic Forum (WEF) reports a worrying shortage of scientists and engineers available in South Africa. In fact, The New York Academy of Sciences has estimated that Sub-Saharan Africa requires 2.5 million more engineers to “address the continent’s gravest development problems”.

In South Africa, youth unemployment is staggeringly high – 55.2% in the first quarter of 2019. Jobs are available in STEM – but local STEM experts are few and far between. Therefore, most STEM jobs are outsourced to large multinational companies from China, India and the US. What is urgently needed is homegrown STEM talent. And to achieve this, there needs to be a dramatic change in the education system. Currently, South Africa scores second to last for quality of Africa’s education systems (according to the WEF).

The problem is that there are few STEM experts to teach the next generation. So, what can young South Africans do to achieve their dreams of a career in STEM? Self-motivation is going to be key.

Reading publications like Futurum will give you a good idea of the sorts of STEM careers that are available worldwide. There are also schemes specific to South Africa – check out their websites, attend events, talk to STEM experts, find role models, find your inspiration and go for it:

  1. Scifest Africa: A project combining two components: The National Science Festival (which is held in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, every March) and regional and national outreach programmes (which take place all over South Africa throughout the rest of the year). Check out their website for unique interactive events and educational resources.
  2. Afrika Tikkun: A non-profit organisation that promotes STEM education form early childhood (Cradle to Career 360 model) through to youth and career development programmes. Afrika Tikkun provides training in coding, web design, network security and computer literacy. With support from their partners, Afrika Tikkun can provide equipment too: computer labs, with high-speed internet.
  3. Iamthecode: A movement designed to get governments, business and investors to support young women in STEM, through learning how to code, creative learning and cracking problems. Iamthecode aims to empower 1 million young women and girls globally to become coders by 2030.
  4. Rethink: An e-learning platform, which allows students to access high quality materials wherever their geographical location.
  5. South African Women in Science and Engineering: A dynamic association that aims to strengthen the role of women in science and engineering in South Africa. They do this by raising the profile of female STEM workers, providing role models, funding scholarships and lobbying for the advancement of South African women in STEM.
  6. Techwomen: A mentorship and exchange programme that aims to empower, connect and support the next generation of women leaders in STEM from Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East.

Once South Africa has its first generation of STEM workers, the ball will start to roll for future generations. Could you be the one to lead the way?

Read more about this:

SciDevNet: Seven ways to improve Africa’s STEM education

World Economic Forum: What STEM can do for Africa

Mail & Guardian: Youth need skills for the fourth industrial revolution