The learning visits I had in between the conferences that I was a part of, and interviewing high school students, revealed that there is a huge gap in how our students in Africa utilise their education; quite disturbingly, they lack a deep understanding of how the natural sciences and mathematics apply to the real world.


Technology is, of course, a double edged sword. Fire can cook our food but also burn us. – Jason Silva

This week I was at a Global STEM women leadership summit in Atlanta, Georgia and it was remarkable witnessing women from various STEM fields, accomplished, experienced and resilient in their personal and professional lives listen to one another as well as exhort each other.

It got me thinking about how to make science and maths a rallying cry in Africa to drive the emergence of technology firms that would solve Africa’s problems. This starts with focusing resources around education. Countries in Africa lag behind the Global North (developed nations) in terms of scientific aptitude and output. Unfortunately the situation is not improving fast enough. Despite the fact that there have been attempts to increase the pace of catching up through considerable investments in past decades, countries in the Global South – with the exception of Brazil and China – appear to be losing ground in research. Many of their brightest scholars have been trained around the world. Those who go back home wrangle with poor infrastructure and a lack of support. Others relocate for good.

There was an emphasis on learning STEM subjects in the 70s and 80s in China and these efforts have paid off. Three to four decades after, China has been able to engage in a trade war with the United States. A huge part of this conflict is centered around technology. It has clearly shown the necessity for technological talent, which directly correlates with a dire need for reform in the educational system.

All across the world, STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – disciplines are seen as crucial for nations to become high technology generators. The United States, along with other countries around the world, are clearly mapping out plans for enlarging STEM majors to meet the expanding need for workers who are prepared to compete in an increasingly technological world, while specifically requiring the knowledge and problem-solving skills of various fields of STEM.

Africa’s science capacity needs to expand by more than 10 times to have half the number of scientists per population that the UK has. We should ponder on this and realise how much work has to be done.


Our priorities should be on investing more in developing scientists, engineers and mathematicians, instead of pouring money blindly into various educational reforms that aren’t specifically targeted at boosting scientific research and innovation.

The learning visits I had in between the conferences that I was a part of, and interviewing high school students, revealed that there is a huge gap in how our students in Africa utilise their education; quite disturbingly, they lack a deep understanding of how the natural sciences and mathematics apply to the real world.

Student retention in STEM here in Africa is a continuing problem, but an expansion of strategies to widen the STEM pipeline is the first step to be accomplished. We should start by improving students’ interest in STEM subjects and thereby recruiting STEM students by (1) engaging them in active learning through STEM in the classroom and (2) helping STEM teachers use teaching strategies with real world problems that interest students.

All I could think about was how to create programmes like these in Africa to drive the future-readiness of students, to enable them compete globally.


Two fantastic examples of this that I had at the conference was in relation to a music teacher who created musical compositions around space explorations. Another woman formed a business around teaching students to create video games which taught the students about coding, problem-solving, and critical thinking.

All I could think about was how to create programmes like these in Africa to drive the future-readiness of students, to enable them compete globally.

Africa’s science capacity needs to expand by more than 10 times to have half the number of scientists per population that the UK has. We should ponder on this and realise how much work has to be done.

Adetola Salau, Carismalife4U@gmail.com, an advocate of STEM education, public speaker, author, and social entrepreneur, is passionate about education reform.