STEM will help nobody if we do not know how to use it. 10 years ago an American company supplied us with a PCR machine for detection and quantification of HIV. So to initiate a chain reaction we needed what is called a primer and we used to run out of this stuff. There was a guy whom we would call in South Africa and he would ship or fly overnight. Then one day I asked him where he ordered the reagents. He said, “I make them”. He took me through the Primer Design Process, temperature and pressure requirements etc. I told him, “Dude I know all that you have talked about!” The truth is, the books were in my head but I could not envision how I could turn the books into something productive.
Since then I have been amazed about how much I have in my head that I do not know how to use. I look at the GPS on my phone and I realize this is latitude and longitude from those lines we used to draw in Geography lessons. There is a bit of velocity from Physics, maybe some Classical Mechanics from A-Level Maths, a bit of this and that.
The point is, we have so much dark knowledge that is floating in our brains. How do we turn that into tangible products? Cracking that means cracking the economy. Cracking that means more jobs, more innovation, more ambition, more money and probably better life for more.
It is not just the classic STEM issue but everything that we have learnt in school or in life somehow needs a cognitive realization of its existence for it to be useful. Just understanding the meaning of “And”,”If”,”Or”,”else”, “finally” can be the difference between a good and bad prospect for Software Development. I have realized that the things that I learnt from my passion for philosophy especially logic helped me in understanding Logic Gates in A-Level electronics and today it is still helpful in my work as a Software Engineer. So it may not be that we need to emphasize STEM over other branches of education, rather we may need to find a way to short-circuit the spaghetti-like knowledge into life.
Is it the Government? Is it the Economy? Is it just that Africans are inherently incapable of being innovative? Is it the education system? I am not sure but what I am certain about is that our biggest undoing has been a quest for qualifications and titles that do not translate into products that improve our people’s livelihoods.
Think about this; more than 90% of people in Zimbabwe who sat for O’ Levels at one point in their life learnt about efficiency – things like the pulley and gear systems in Integrated Science but we still find a cow-drawn plough that was developed centuries ago as the most efficient tool for us unless we have tractors. I havent heard of anybody spending time to figure out efficient, cost-effective solutions to our agrarian challenges. That is why I have huge respect for Daniel Chingoma for his Taisek endeavours.
I do not want to prescribe a solution but let us ponder on what we think we know then weigh it against what we have done with what we know. Maybe, just maybe we can transform Africa into what it out to be – a jewel.