Strengthening the pathways to success: The global challenge of learning
One cannot deny that we are at an impasse. Globally, countries are trying to fix the gap between education systems and labour markets. How do we improve learning as work transforms? This question is even more urgent in Africa where the challenges of improving access and quality of education are met with serious budget constraints and a small labour market upon graduation, among many other challenges.
The numbers are often grim. According to the World Bank, less than one percent of global research output comes from Africa. Of that one percent, only 29% of this comes from Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics. This global output is matched by the inadequate contributions of governments, and the private sector, to research and development on the continent (also less than 1%). As we know, knowledge led economies are driven by investment in research and development.
There are also other pressing challenges. There is a clear absence of young women in scientific fields, especially at the post-doctorate level. And 10 million or so young people arrive on the labour market each year.
How do we respond to the multiple layers of challenges, even while working to achieve the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? And what is the role of science research and development in all of this?
The organization that I lead, the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) believes that an ecosystem approach, leveraging public-private partnerships, is critical to responding to these challenges on the African continent. Science research and development, if valued and invested in, can provide potential solutions by telling us how to achieve the SDGs and how to measure our progress.
But what do we mean by an ecosystem approach? We mean responding to challenges and opportunities at every step of the pipeline. As Finland has shown us, you must start young. The Finnish model advocates for state of the art pre-schools, minimal homework etc. As well, teaching is a highly rewarded profession. Certainly, this is critical but how does one achieve this with very little resources? At AIMS, we have several initiatives to address the challenges of education early on. Currently, in partnership with the MasterCard Foundation, we run a gender responsive teacher training program in Cameroon where we train in service and pre-service teachers through master trainers and a state of the art simulation lab, to change the way teachers teach mathematics in secondary school. Very soon, we are rolling out this program out in Rwanda.
We also run through the AIMS Next Einstein Forum (NEF) initiative, the NEF Africa Science Week that we hope to expand to 30 countries in 2018. Through the week long activities, we hope to popularize science among primary, secondary and university students, showing them the many opportunities that are available within science and technology.
Once students succeed in graduating from university, our AIMS Centers’ of Excellence offer one of kind learning that deemphasizes testing and emphasizes critical and independent thinking, and problem solving. Our master’s program teaches mathematics in the pure and applied sense, as we believe mathematics underlies all modern technology. AIMS alumni have gone on to continue their research in infectious diseases such as Ebola, cryptography, fintech, mining safety, bioinformatics, cosmology to name a few fields.
After more than ten years of graduating problem solvers, we wanted to support mathematicians who wanted to enter the labour market. Together with local and international partners, we have launched the AIMS Industry Initiative that equips graduates with labour market skills and offers their unique skills, particularly in mathematical modelling, to various industries.
Partnering to improve Africa’s research landscape
On the research side, we run research centres attached to our centres of excellence. Through important partnerships with the German Federal Ministry of Education, and Research, Robert Bosch Stiftung, Canada’s International Development Research Centre and the South African government, we run several Chair and Junior Chair programs that give talented young African scientists the opportunity to return to the continent to do research, directly helping to build capacity. We also just launched a Fellowship Program for Women in Climate Change Science with the support of the Canadian government. We encourage all qualified female scientists to apply.
Further, we founded a prestigious NEF Fellows program to reward Africa’s top young scientists, particularly female scientists. We also just launched the NEF Community of Scientists, a network to foster collaboration among African scientists, and allow them to offer their expertise to African governments and organizations on important questions.
Finally, very soon, we will be launching the first international quantum research centre on the African continent in Kigali, Rwanda. Quantum Leap Africa will attract top global talent to work on frontier research, benefitting the continent both in research output, and industry and job creation.
We haven’t been able to do what we do by working alone. We have partnered with governments like South Africa, Senegal, Cameroon, Ghana, Rwanda, Canada, the UK and Germany, as well as both organizations and foundations in Africa and across the world. We believe partnerships are critical for improving the quality of education on the continent, not as a replacement to public education, but as initiatives that strengthen the foundation and improve the chances of success.
Our continued policy discussions with public and industry partners (including to increase investments to science infrastructure and research) are critical to creating knowledge led sustainable growth. We will not meet the SDGs in Africa if we do not invest in the entire education and research ecosystem.
We believe the ecosystem approach because it works.