‘e² Young Engineers’ & How STEM Can Transform Uganda
By Arinaitwe Rugyendo
NAIROBI, KENYA: A debate has been raging on the continent and around the world about the usefulness of ‘STEM’ education in the school system
‘STEM’ stands for ‘Science, Education, Engineering and Mathematics.’
The debaters have failed to agree whether these skills are the core recipe needed for school going children in order to become the next generation of scientists, innovators and creative thinkers.
Back home, and especially in the East African region, consensus is starting to emerge on the need for emphasis on science-based disciplines in order to reverse the crisis of joblessness occasioned by a surge in unmarketable university courses every year. What has gained currency is the need for practical subjects to take centre stage. There is a sudden interest in entrepreneurship and most especially in emphasis on practice over theory because no country has developed without a firm base in science and technology. African parents are not happy that the education their kids are getting is not equipping them with the necessary skills to fend for themselves in future or get an automatic job.
The Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, has been overly mad about children readings course that are not in sync with the job market requirements, often touting himself on how Mbarara University of Science and Technology which listened to him on the need to emphasize science based courses, has no science graduate roaming the streets looking for jobs except those who opted for the liberal arts. I believe he is right. This is the reason why the Ugandan curriculum is undergoing a review and science subjects have become compulsory up to the ordinary level of secondary school education.
Although this has ben welcomed in certain circles, a sizable number of Ugandans are uncomfortable, arguing that that forcing students to study these courses without the requisite foundational formation, spells for disaster and disinterest. To create interest, they argue, you must deal with the toddlers, bend them when they are still raw and by the time you force them to enjoy sciences in future, they will have lived the experience anyway!
This is where the debate on STEM education is gaining currency.
The United States for instance has realized the importance of imparting STEM skills in children so as to maintain its global leadership in scientific research for the coming decades.
On March 24, 2015, President Obama Announced a $240 Million in new STEM commitments in Washington DC.
He announcement at a White House Science Fair that had been organized to celebrate the student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions from across the country:
“As part of the Fair, President Obama will announce over $240 million in new private-sector commitments to inspire and prepare more girls and boys – especially those from underrepresented groups – to excel in the STEM fields. With the commitments being made today, the President’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign has resulted in over $1 billion in financial and in-kind support for STEM programs,” a White House Press Release read in part.
Africa is still thinking about it as the U.S grooms its toddlers for scientific leadership.
The e² Young Engineers STEM Programme
Yesterday, following an invitation from the Israeli-based, The Decade Group -Young Engineers Ltd, I decided to attend the launch of their Kenyan franchise at Little Paws Montessori House, an early years centre located on Makindi Road.
The Decade Group- Young Engineers Ltd is an awesome group of innovators who have spread their children -specific Israeli designed STEM programmes around the world and are storming Africa like nothing.
Their Young Engineers education programs rationally adopt an edutainment (the combination of education and entertainment) approach. They have developed a variety of different programs that can be used to teach the most important subjects such as arithmetic, physics, mechanical and software engineering in a fun way to children in the age categories of 4-6, 7-8, 9-10 and 11-13.
The children who have to go through five different STEM stages, outside the normal national curriculum until they are 13 years old, are able to innovate and create projects of their own by the age of 15.
“We have developed special programs and workshops suited to children at both ends of the learning spectrum, from gifted children to those with learning disabilities. Unlike traditional teaching methods, our use of stories, experiments and demonstrations ensures that all children joining our education programs will learn while they have fun. In fact, they’ll have so much fun they may not even realize they’re learning,” CEO Amir Asor tells me.
He adds that it is important to remember that children who have just begun their elementary schooling cannot predict what kind of careers and opportunities will exist in 15 years’ time. The belief at ‘Young Engineers’ is that a generic approach is the best way to prepare the future generation for the unknown by developing their critical, skeptical, and creative thoughts at an early stage.
e² Young Engineers Uniqueness
Is Africa prepared to use this programme to prepare the future generations of engineers and scientists?
“In order for entrepreneurial hi-tech economy to thrive, it is vital that the education system in Africa keeps producing highly-skilled professionals. In other words, if ‘Start-up Nation’ is to flourish, we need to ensure the minds and talent required continues to emerge from our schools, colleges and universities,” Asor adds.
After extensive testing, it has been statistically proven that the children participating in e² Young Engineers enrichment programs achieve high grades within all scientific subjects taught at school.
It has also been proven that elementary school students joining Young Engineers community obtain the mathematical knowledge required to succeed when it comes to tackling the more complex scientific curriculums taught at middle and high schools.
As Kenya, was being switched on, I thought about Uganda. This is the stuff we need.
I have successfully convinced these Israelis that this programme is relevant for Uganda, a country grappling with 83% of youth unemployment largely due to a mismatch between the education system and the job market requirements.
Next week I shall return with details about how this STEM revolution at ‘e² Young Engineers’ is planning to switch on Uganda and most especially how you can enroll your child to become the next generation of innovators and creative thinkers!
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