It’s been one month and half months since the Zimbabwean government announced an Advanced Level STEM(Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics) initiative that offered free education to senior high school students enrolling to study a combination of Science subjects.
The government has pledged to pay, through its Zimbabwe Development Fund (ZIMDEF), tuition, levies and boarding fees for all Zimbabwean fifth form students enrolling for a subject combination of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry or Biology.
There has been a lot of debate on whether or not this initiative will be the silver bullet to address an existing and growing shortage of talent and skills in areas of STEM development. Its effectiveness as a single element for the government’s strategy to deal with the digital age skills shortage has also been queried.
Despite that debate and some political controversy around it, the initiative has gained some traction.
According to figures released by the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, as at 11 March 2016 the STEM initiative has so far benefitted 3,404 students across the country’s 10 provinces.
A total of $788,452.18 has been spent paying for the education of these students who recently enrolled for Lower Sixth Form studies at various government institutions.
The highest number of signups were recorded in Harare province with 672 students, followed by Manicaland with 484 students and Midlands with 468 students.
The amounts invested in each province weren’t necessarily tied to the number of students signed up. The highest amount was spent on Mashonaland East, something that likely reflects the variances in the requirements of each student since the STEM initiative supports both day school and boarding students.
|PROVINCE||NUMBER OF STUDENTS||AMOUNT SPENT ($US)|
Is STEM taking effect?
These numbers reflect the engagement that has been created in STEM with the 3,404 total bearing some relationship to the number of students that sat for and passed Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Physical Science and Biology at Ordinary Level – subjects which determine which students are prepared for science subjects at Advanced Level and specifically the combinations being targetted by the government.
According to the 2015 Ordinary Level Results from national examinations board Zimsec, Mathematics registered 29,891 passes, Physics recorded 4,450 passes, Biology registered 11,054 passes, Chemistry had 3,500 students and Physical Science registered 5,197 passes.
While all students who passed these subjects didn’t necessarily line up for the STEM initiative, the totals, particularly for passes in Physics, Chemistry and Physical Science are in the same region as the current STEM initiative signup total.
Could the STEM initiative be encouraging ane enrollment for Sciences at Advanced Level? It’s hard to say at this point. The doors are still open for students that want to sign up and the Ministry of Higher Education is yet to present a comprehensive analysis of how a free STEM education was taken up.
For now, it looks like they have 3,404 reasons to believe that they are doing something right.