Students that are registering for Advanced Level science subjects at public schools are going to get a free education after an announcement was made that the government will cover their full school and boarding fees.
This is meant to promote the learning of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines which the government has recognised as key drivers for economic growth.
According to the Herald, the statement made by the Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, Professor Jonathan Moyo, also pointed out that schools which register full lower Sixth Form STEM classes in 2016 stand a chance to win a cash prize of $100,000 and a bus.
Other incentives thrown into the promotion of STEM include the chance for ten 2016 Lower Sixth STEM students to win a trip to the United States where they will tour Microsoft and a group of companies in Silicon Valley. 100 laptops and 100 iPads are also being given away to lucky Lower Sixth Form STEM students.
This is the strongest push towards STEM education at a high school level that has been enacted by the government. It has been driven by the need for science and technology skills in various facets of the economy, something that government has even highlighted in its Zim Asset Economic Plan.
There is a significant skills shortage in STEM-related fields, not just in Zimbabwe, but on a global scale. Locally, areas of economic importance like mining, agriculture and telecommunications are constantly expanding in scope, creating the need for a continued replenishment of talent. These areas will benefit from the move as it will likely encourage students to consider the STEM path.
It is worth observing, though, that this declaration has to be followed up by strategic efforts in resource mobilisation and skills development beyond the churn out of students that sign up for a free high school education.
At a tertiary level, there have to be measures to ensure that the increased number of STEM students is translated to viable skills that benefit the economy. While we might encourage more students to become engineers, they would need to plough those skills into the country for the move to be rewarding.
Zimbabwe already has tertiary institutions that have been churning out graduates in STEM disciplines. While some end up facing challenges of unemployment and underutilization of skills due to limited opportunities, a significant quotient pursue opportunities outside the country, creating the “brain drain” challenge.
These issues would also need to be addressed to ensure that what starts off as an encouraging move at a High School level, doesn’t turn into an unrewarding effort at a later stage.
image credit – University of Kansas