Extensive conversations in different spheres, and on various media channels have culminated in a consensus – that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) play an integral role in economic growth, both regionally and globally; and given current trends, especially in the field of technology, one cannot but recognize the truth in this belief.
By harnessing the power of technology, communication has become democratized, and the world has come to be described as one big global village. Through advancements in science, new medical solutions are developed to address various medical issues, ranging from mild to severe conditions. Engineering, on the other hand, leverages other aspects of STEM and creates innovative solutions among other useful infrastructure. Finally, mathematics also serves us with knowledge useful in understanding the workings of economies, delivering insights to players in the world of Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Basically, these subject areas work hand-in-hand to produce life-changing innovations useful in today’s world.
Recognizing and championing this reality is Africa’s leading integrated payments and digital commerce company, Interswitch, which, through its Switch-a-Future initiative, created the National Science Competition dubbed, ‘InterswitchSPAK’ designed to encourage the uptake of STEM courses by students in Nigeria and other African regions.
During the competition, students between 14 and 17 years old, who are full-time secondary school students, are required to participate in a national qualifying examination, after which the best 81 students are selected to partake in the second stage of the competition – the TV Quiz programme.
The students are tested based on their Speed, Precision, Accuracy, and Knowledge – or SPAK for short. At the end of the show, the top three contestants are presented with scholarships spread over a stipulated period, among other exciting gifts like laptops.
Interswitch has stated that one of the top reasons for creating the show was a genuine concern at the depreciating interest in STEM by students, and the desire to promote ‘sound education in Africa’, empowering young Africans to make career decisions along the line of STEM. It also highlighted the importance of these subjects in the development of lives on the continent.
To inspire more African students, the InterswitchSPAK National Science Competition was expanded to Kenya, where it has, to date, run for two seasons, alongside the show in Nigeria, which has had three (3) successful seasons. While the show’s values remain the same, the formats vary. In Kenya, the top 500 students are selected from across the country and the best 54 students advance to the next stage of the competition. The winner receives, in scholarships, 1.5 million Kenyan shillings, while the second and third place winner receive 750,000 and 150,000 Kenyan shillings respectively.
There is no doubt that the evolving challenges faced by Africans, and their counterparts globally, have been resiliently tackled by solutions brought about by individuals and organizations in the STEM field. We remain witnesses of the geniuses manifested in many of the products created by STEM.
To ensure that the current crop of young Africans is not left behind in the race to leverage STEM in forging change, the InterswitchSPAK initiative was introduced to advance the study of STEM and incentivize these students, equipping them with the needed tools to design the blueprint that will ultimately change the narrative of the African continent.
The need for increased penetration of STEM studies in Africa cannot be overlooked, as experts worry about the shortage of a skilled labor force to fill vacant positions in STEM-related professions. It is believed that through concerted efforts to apply the knowledge of STEM, Africa is positioned to experience sustainable growth.
While the buck stops at the table of regulators to encourage an increased uptake of STEM courses by creating awareness across schools, other private corporations can also step in and play supportive roles in passing this important message, a move already taken by Interswitch, as it seeks to switch the future of Africa and its inhabitants.