STEM will not solve our lack of dreams

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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.

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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.

17 Comments

  1. Baba Tencen: Kuripwa Kugara says:

    Please help this confused writer.

    1. Raymond Chikono says:

      sadly it is the blunt truth. as a child of an electrical engineer my dad made sure that i understand electronics at a tender age and growing up I would manage to use that little I knew about it to feel in gaps in need. I’m not proud of it but frankly I was and still is somehow lazy to the extend that I had to fabricate my own motor powered shoe brush to polish my school shoes. but sadly we only end at being taught how to repair the already developed devices. I wish to start an academy that can fill that gap with God’s blessings. a lot can be harnessed in our young kids if they are exposed to what is not taught on our educational curriculum.

      1. Bvanyangu Rekwachiundura Josphats says:

        This truth in anecdotal. Thus a “macro-level” conclusion shouldn’t be drawn from it.

  2. Cecil says:

    creativity is a realm in art is the main component,unfortunately we despise art .Allow you science students to experience art

  3. Brighton G says:

    Unfortunately as much as I hate to believe it, this article really does get at one important truth. Zimbabweans have always been and will always be extremely creative people with the exception of a few who run the country however with the huge restraints on affordable capital and opportunities that stem from it we are forced to put our dreams on the back burner. The reality of the situation is that there are many Zimbabweans who start out with huge dreams that may be capable of transforming society but when it comes to the realisation of those ideas and dreams without the correct capital (both human and financial) those dreams will never be able to become a reality. The other sad truth is many of the greatest and most educated minds in Zimbabwe have fled to countries where they are able to realise their ideas and earn a decent salary for doing so. The political and economic situation has suppressed many of the remaining great minds into settling for whatever they can get in order to survive. Without a globally competitive economy and well functioning institutions Zimbabwe will continue on this downward spiral and all those potentially life changing ideas will stay as just that, Ideas. We pray that these selfish politicians one day take a step back and understand that Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans (Black white and blue) and not just for them. The propaganda games are coming to an end because even those that are brainwashed are starting to come to the realisation that we cannot just continue to blame the non existent Western sanctions for our poor governance.

  4. wat abt humanities? says:

    As confused as he may sound, I think he has a point on why we should not entirely focus on STEM. Here is why:

    Walter Isaacson-author of Steve Jobs https://hbr.org/2012/04/the-real-leadership-lessons-of-steve-jobs

    “The creativity that can occur when a feel for both the humanities and the sciences exists in one strong personality was what most interested me in my biographies of Franklin and Einstein, and I believe that it will be a key to building innovative economies in the 21st century. It is the essence of applied imagination, and it’s why both the humanities and the sciences are critical for any society that is to have a creative edge in the future.”

  5. Creative Art says:

    they should not only focus with the high school students but rather review the curriculum being offered at tertiary level because that is where all the innovation will commence because as the writer was saying almost everyone of us is well aware of the theories and formulas but we continue to lack the application because the type of curriculum that is being offered at tertiary level is not sufficient enough to enable innovation that is why we have so many educated but unemployed youth today because we must not only think of capital in monetary terms but also in the skills and knowledge we have.

  6. wat abt humanities? says:

    @CreativeArt you are right abt curriculum at tertiary level & we also need to look at how the business world can influence such curriculum. And all the more we need a new educational model from ECD up to when someone is in the labour market

  7. Siege says:

    Your article has touched on an important issue. and 2 things I think will explain why we seem to be so behind compared to the US, for example:

    1 – Science and Tech in developed countries is driven by Government – huge government funded initiatives backed by big budgets in R&D – usually through the military. Look at GPS tech – that’s US spearheaded tech. The wireless device in our cellphones – that’s US military developed technology. Drone technology – US Military again! What happens is that the public funded military R&D will be made available to private companies who will then put together civilian products. Look at Apple – they never invented anything in the iPhone or the iPad! We can say it was all public funded, different technologies developed by the military. It’s all about where you put money and resources. Look at this, in 2015, 54% of US annual budget went to their Military, compared to 6% for Education and just under 3% for science! This proves that education as a sector does not particularly lead in R&D of new technologies.
    2 – Secondly, it’s all about market-place. I’ve seen that in zim right now virtually every young person in their early thirties downwards is driven to enterprise. We do have dreamers! Problem is you can only grow if you have territory to grow into, and we don’t, and when you can’t grow, you give up and try something else! Our local market is really dry. People, corporates and even government have been continually cutting back for the past few years. And usually, when cut-backs occur, you cut out things that you have not seen work, i.e. new tech, new inventions etc. You can easily create a Facebook, but how many people are you going to capture in your homeland before you go international? I’ve seen that all international companies particularly in tech first have to succeed in their local markets before they go international. well, our market does not allow us much, so it kills off the spirit of design and innovation – which is what drives new technologies, not just schooling!

    My 2 Zimbabwean cents 🙂

  8. valzengo says:

    “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.”
    You nailed it there, 99.99999% of Zimbabweans dream of having titles that is why Univeristies and colleges dish out certificates and degrees like hot chips, we think education is acquiring that but we forget the need for substance, practical application and innovation on the concepts learned, that is why you’ll realise Bill Gates and Steve Jobs all dropped out of school and today they hold the American Economy and redefined the world. Personally I think our leaders have no clue how to solve this economy and the future, we jus need people who are crazy enough to challenge the established norms and values

  9. G says:

    Thats why we need entrepreneurship training & education from primary school to university. Lets reorient the Zimbabwe education system towards creating entrepreneurs. Hakuna mabasa thats a fact so people are not going to school to get jobs after college.

    They are going to school so that they can gain knowledge and skills to help them to develop their own employment – Entrepreneurship and small business development is the answer here.

    We are already doing it but it needs a national effort to be more refined & increase impact.

  10. Macd Chip says:

    If l put my book qualifications on the table in Zim, lm nobody compared to most who have at A levels and above qualifications.

    Bt l have a passion for technology, which is what lm doing, this, if l try to fit it into current STEM, it will be 1out of 100 if lm luck.

    Luckily, somewhere, in a country which look into a person’s capabilities, not University degrees, lm able to put my passion into practise and make a living out of it.

    How many graduates who meet or surpased stem requirements are selling tomatoes right now?

  11. purple says:

    Very relevant article….. unless if the government’s initiative is to train as many Science Graduates and export them to the diaspora and have an endless supply of Maths Teachers. Unfortunately we already have enuf science graduates and havana mabasa. Unfortunately I dont see why we should prioritise STEM subject and leave out Commercials and Art subjects which to me are just as Important.
    I feel its just a way for the Education Ministry to seem as if its making achievements and draw attention from the real problems with our Education System.

    1. Macd Chip says:

      Thank you! Our education system is totally wrong to drive our economic growth.

      Its qualification driven, degrees driven, phd driven which amounts to nothing economic enabling.

      Dziramasanga identified this way back bt upto now his recomendations are being ignored by book educationist.

      Our education is good in a advanced economy, even this stem, but we do not have a economy to even start thats why we have either graduates roaming the streets or leaving the country.

  12. KG says:

    I feel people need to calm down just a little bit on this STEM issue. Just because something isnt an answer by itself doesn’t make it useless. Wheels on a car are just as essential and pistons. Instead of chastising STEM proponents we should encourage those areas that will make the STEM focus do what it should (entreprenuership, tertiary education, advanced research and development etc)

    1. Sam Mandebvu says:

      I agree! It’s a good initiative. I think the issue others have is that its an act of hacking at the leaves of an evil and not the root cause. This initiative, even at maximum success, will see only higher rates of brain drain. I say that as a clear example of that brain drain. I am in a foreign country and have injected a lot of intellectual development into this country within my area of expertise at a national level. Work that I wish I could do in Zim, but I am not that altruistic. I can’t sacrifice my children’s future in the name of my nation. Most don’t hence why we leave and go ply our trades else where. STEM is a great idea! We just need everything else around it to conducive so that its initiatives are realised.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Chingoma will always be a hero

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