South Africa must focus on STEM skills to enable development

31st August 2021 By: Schalk Burger - Creamer Media Senior Contributing Editor

South Africa needs to improve awareness of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills among primary and secondary school learners.

These skills should also be taught by appropriately qualified specialist teachers, to develop skilled and experienced engineers necessary for South Africa's infrastructure development, says consulting engineering multinational Knight Piésold South Africa human resources director Mevashnee Naidoo.

“This will require schools to be provided with the necessary STEM-related infrastructure, such as science and computer laboratories. At the same time, we need to be focusing on encouraging female learners to take up STEM subjects so that they too can ultimately pursue careers in these fields,” she says.

The New York Academy of Sciences estimates that sub-Saharan Africa needs 2.5-million more engineers to address the continent’s development problems.

Further, many engineering graduates are lost to other industries and to other countries via emigration, adds Naidoo.

“We urgently need more engineering graduates to enter the workforce and be trained and developed by experienced engineering specialists,” she says.

Over the past five to ten years, there has been an increased focus on STEM careers in response to gradually declining numbers of matriculants choosing these subjects. However, despite this focus, the number of learners electing core mathematics as a subject in matric has not improved, which excludes then from pursuing tertiary studies in STEM fields.

“While professional social media platforms are extremely useful in a business context, the reality is that such messaging may not reach primary or secondary school learners.

"We need to be making use of more appropriate platforms like television, radio and print media to showcase available STEM careers and raise awareness about the matric subjects required to enter these careers,” she emphasises.

Simultaneously, South Africa needs to change the narrative about how difficult it is to pursue a STEM career and instead focus on how rewarding these careers are.

To play its part in addressing the challenge, Knight Piésold conducts roadshows to secondary schools and offers job shadow days where learners are able to visit its offices and experience a day in the life of an engineer.

The company supports schools within Southern Africa by sponsoring STEM-related infrastructure and offers a number of fully funded bursaries for civil engineering students with guaranteed employment after they have graduated.

“However, as much as private sector companies have a role to play in encouraging more learners to consider STEM-related careers, we need government and the education system to partner in this effort.

"It is only by working together that we can make a meaningful difference to develop future STEM leaders who will build a successful and prosperous Africa,” emphasises Naidoo.