BY PATIENCE RADISOENG
Enrolment in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is in slow decline across the country. This is according to officials from the nation’s first ever Science and Technology university – Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST).
The director of pre-university academic services at BIUST – Haniso Motlhabane says lately the number of students studying sciences such as chemistry, physics and mathematics remains within the grip of unpopularity.
Motlhabane says available data shows that there is a serious trend in decline of interest students in pursuing the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.
He said only 2 000 on average or even less out of 40 000 Botswana General Certificate Examination Leavers (BGCSE) enroll in STEM related courses which is a very low figure.
He indicated that STEM education is crucial in driving Botswana towards a knowledge based economy shifting from an agrarian dominated economy as entailed in the Vision 2036 commitment.
“Botswana‘s economy is heavily relying on natural resources while the rest of the world is gearing towards a knowledge based economy and 4th industrial revolution. However, it is critical that we as the country we put serious effort in growing STEM sector to achieve knowledge based economy status as per the desire,” he said.
Motlhabane said STEM festival is part of the BIUST corporate culture, which promotes excellence and innovation by gathering together learners, innovators, and research institutions.
For his part, founder and technical director of Spectrum Analytics-Tebogo Mogaleemang said the real issue to move the country to the next level is to reverse the employment trends.
“We need to think what the future skills required to drive these knowledge economy in the era of digitalization. Robotics and coding allows students to pick critical skills at problem solving; they become curious, they can think about taking problems, breaking it into smaller pieces into what they are familiar with,” he said.
He stated that other countries are talking about the 4th industrialization revolution while Botswana is still talking about a knowledge based economy but in a divorced sense of where the rest of the world is going, which really needs to be addressed.
He highlighted that; “We need to have national task force that studies advising cabinet on the upcoming scrubtions and what that means as well as the type of students that we need to come out of our education system because gone are the days when graduating with a degree meant that there was a job waiting for you.”
Mogaleemang further said Botswana is now on an era where she has many unemployed graduates that do not know that they are problem solvers because entrepreneurship itself is a problem solving equation where one identify a problem, then look for a solution and end up monetizing the problem.
“Let us encourage students at young age to be problem solvers,” he stated.
Adding that the STEM and RAIS platforms are beneficial as it stimulates bench marking exercises from the projects of countries which are above Botswana in terms of innovating for economic diversification.
Meanwhile head of Ore processing at Debswana, Edwin Elias, has also pleaded with the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology to commit more funds on research and development.
“The 0.3% GDP share for STEM cannot by any imagination take us any closer to the pace setters in this economic race. My appeal is that while we may not possibly afford 3% of GDP for Research and Development like nations such as Japan, may we direct at least 2% of GDP towards Research and Development,” he said.
He is doubtful that the 77 innovations that were exhibited varying in complexity and level of finish and exhibited by a cross section of innovators from primary schools, junior secondary, senior secondary and tertiary education as well as out of school youth and professional innovators even from international countries could make a difference in the STEM field of Botswana in the future.
Elias further challenged BIUST to double its efforts in engaging private sector for collaboration.
“I also implore the industry to appreciate that BIUST and other STEM inclined institutions could be cradles for our economic revolution and drivers of our global competitiveness,” he concluded.