The US government under president Trump has made it a priority to prepare students for careers in technology. The Trump administration has been directing money towards bolstering science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education.
In the same week that Trump directed the Education Department to put $200m in grant money towards computer science education, tech companies in the country pledged another $300m towards that effort. The mentioned tech companies included giants Amazon, Google and Microsoft.
From outside the US looking in one would not think the American education system is lacking in STEM fields. That Silicon Valley is not what it used to be was never under debate but looking at the number of startups from there the extent of the lack of skills in potential recruitees was not apparent.
Many tech companies have been donating money, technology and volunteers to schools to increase computer training. The tech companies see American education as lacking in STEM fields and have been pushing for teacher education and resources that bolster STEM education.
In Zimbabwe, the government launched the STEM initiative at the start of 2016. The initiative in the country provides free education to all A-Level students registered for STEM related subjects. The government is paying for both school and boarding fees for those students.
That is meant to persuade and encourage students to take on STEM related subjects and with the economic challenges the country is facing, parents are pushing their children towards those subjects to save on school fees.
Thousands of students in Zimbabwe have benefited from the initiative. Within three months of the initiative being launched over 3400 students had been assisted.
The biggest problem in Zimbabwe though was not that students were not choosing STEM subjects but that there has been a steady leak of teachers out of the country. The biggest problem we have right now is that teachers are leaving the country seeking greener pastures.
Countries in this Southern African region offer better remuneration than the Zimbabwean government offers and the decision to leave Zimbabwe is made easier for teachers. This has led to a shortage of science teachers in the country.
In Zimbabwe teachers are getting less than the poverty datum line and it is no wonder they are leaving. The government already has a very high wage bill, with over 90c per dollar of revenue collected going towards that bill and so in the short term teachers’ salaries are not going to improve markedly.
The other problem in schools is lack of laboratory equipment. Science subjects are supposed to be practical ones but students are learning just the theory. This is depriving students of the critical science skills derived from observation, handling apparatus among other things.
The Zimbabwean government was on the right track when they launched the STEM initiative but more funding, like the funding being obtained by the US government is needed. Teacher remuneration has to be sorted otherwise the initiative will fail. If teachers are paid well and do not leave, funding is also needed to provide equipment with which to teach the students.