Ministerial Statement on STEM - 2016-02-18

In the National Assembly
Thursday 18th February 2016

 

MINISTERIAL STATEMENT: POSITION REGARDING STEM

THE MINISTER OF HIGHER AND TERTIARY EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT

HON. PROF. J.N. MOYO: Madam Speaker, yesterday during Questions Without Notice, an issue arose over a programme that the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development has launched to support 2016 A’ Level STEM students. In particular, the issue was whether there is conflict between itself and its counterpart Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education. During that debate, the Speaker advised that we as a Ministry, issue a Ministerial Statement.

On the 27th January 2016, the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development launched the 2016 A’ Level STEM initiative. This initiative seeks to encourage O’ Level school leavers who took their O’ Level examinations in 2015 and obtained Grade C or better in Mathematics, Biology, Physics and Chemistry to take a combination of these STEM subjects at A’ Level or lower six in 2016. Where the 2015 O’ Level school leavers register for a full combination of these STEM subjects, the Ministry will pay tuition fees, levies and boarding fees at Government, Mission and Council schools.

Madam Speaker, students who register at public schools as I have indicated, will stand a chance to win a trip of a lifetime to Microsoft and other Silicon Valley STEM companies in the United States. This category will have ten winners, one each from the country’s ten provinces. There will also be draws for 100 STEM laptops, ten each from the country’s ten provinces and 100 STEM iPads, again ten each from the country’s ten provinces. All high schools, whether public or private that register full complements of STEM classes will stand to win a state of the art 30 seater STEM bus or $100 000 in cash to support STEM activities or infrastructure at the school.

Madam Speaker, registration under the 2016 A’ Level STEM initiative started on Monday, 15 February, 2016 under the auspices of the Ministry’s Science and Technology officers at provincial centres supported by ZIMDEF’s regional officers across the country. ZIMDEF has set aside $4 million to fund the initiative. Today, ZIMDEF has paid $31 653 for 106 students and processed 388 applications for payment first thing tomorrow morning.

OBJECTIVES

The objectives of this initiative are:

1) To increase the number of STEM students who will enroll in STEM degree programmes at the country’s universities in 2018;

2) To stimulate interest in Mathematics, Biology, Physics and Chemistry as foundational pillars for STEM competence;

3) To promote STEM careers in response to ZIM ASSET’s value addition and beneficiation thrust;

4) To train and develop cutting edge skills to meet Zimbabwe’s industrialization quest and make the country competitive globally.

Madam Speaker, against this backdrop, the question that has arisen is whether the Ministry and its counterpart, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education are complementing each other in light of the submission by Hon. Maridadi in this House yesterday, to the effect that the two ministries issued two advertisements in newspapers,

Madam Speaker, I wish to place on record, the fact that at no time did the two ministries publish or run advertisements contradicting each other. It is factually incorrect to assert that such a thing ever happened. Instead, there were two newspaper articles, published on the same day in two different newspapers that contradicted each other about the position of the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education.

One report appeared in The Herald of 9 February, 2016, headlined, “We have nothing to do with STEM.”             This article was attributed to the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Dr. Silvia Utete – Masango. On the same day, 9 February, 2016, there was another article in Newsday headlined, “Dokora denies sabotaging STEM Programme,” which quoted a spokesperson of the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education saying that there was no quarrel on STEM between the two ministries. For the record, in light of the fact that Hon. Maridadi  actually said there were two advertisements – (showing the articles to  the House) – in fact these are the two articles and they are not each other. That is the position Madam Speaker.

Whereas there have been attempts to trigger a quarrel between the two ministries, those attempts have failed because there is no quarrel. For the avoidance of doubt Madam Speaker, I wish to table for the record, correspondence from the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, acknowledging and approving the initiative on the 25th of January, 2016, before it was launched on the 27th of January, 2016. There is, in fact, official correspondence acknowledging and approving the programme.

Madam Speaker, the mandates of the two ministries are very different such that they cannot be confused, but they are of course complementary. The Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development has the mandate to train and develop the country’s human capital to serve and service the entire economy. This task of the Ministry Madam Speaker, starts with O’ Level school leavers. After students have taken their O’ Level examinations, they become the business of the Ministry. For example, in 2014, 316 000 students took their O’ Level examinations. Their destination after O’ Level was as follows; see table below:

DESTINATION

NUMBER

PERCENTAGE

A – Level

 

30,614

 

9.69%

 

Tertiary Education (12 Teachers Colleges and 8 Polytechnics)

19,006

 

6.01%

 

3 Industrial Training Centres

1,276

 

0.40%

 

Unskilled Citizens

 

265,104

 

83.89%

 

TOTAL

 

316,000

 

100%

 

 

Interestingly and tellingly, out of 316 000, 265 104 of them or 83% are unskilled Zimbabweans, have nowhere to go in terms of our formal structure of education. These are the majority. This was the case in 2014; it is the case with the 2015 O’ Level students whose results were published last week.

Madam Speaker, with 2014 as the example, only 9.49% of the 316 000 students who took their O’ Level examination proceeded to ‘A’ Level. These were 30,614. Out of this group, only 13% Madam Speaker or 2500 were STEM-qualified for admission into our universities last year in 2015.

This fact, that was presented to us by our universities during extensive consultations with them between July and December last year, jolted us Madam Speaker. It jolted us into finding ways of encouraging O’ Level school-leavers who have a grade C or better in STEM subjects to take a full combination of these subjects at A’ Level. As a Ministry, we have a direct interest in this issue because there is no other reason for anyone to enrol in A’ Level courses other than to prepare for university.

Madam Speaker, A’ Level courses are pre-university courses. That is why you have heard some well established traditional High Schools like Goromonzi claiming that they are sub-universities. It is because when you do your A’ Level, you are basically preparing for university and in a number of instances, you get credit for that at some universities.

Madam Speaker, it is in the national interest to do what we can to increase or grow the pool of A’ Level students who will be applying for admission for admission to our universities in 2018 from the paltry 13% of 2014 to hopefully 20% and 25% to begin with. Madam Speaker, in the end, when we have transformed the entire system of education, we must have 75% of all our students doing STEM. At least this is our expectation but we are far from that.

Madam Speaker, this is what the 2016 A’ Level STEM initiative seeks to do in a very particular way. It would be irresponsible for us to bury our heads in the sand and do nothing about the poor pool of STEM students at A’ Level as if we do not see or understand the detrimental effect of the current situation on our higher and tertiary education, science and technology development.

Madam Speaker, ultimately, the poor STEM pool at A’ Level, means that the skills deficit for Zimbabwe’s much needed industrialisation will remain unattended, while we continue to make self indulgent excuses. In the circumstances and given the paltry 13% pool of A’ Level STEM students who were eligible for university entry into STEM degrees in 2015, it is clear that the STEM campaign that is going on is not in any way harmful to the so-called holistic education that includes humanities, arts and commercial studies. If there were only 13 percent ‘A’-level STEM students for university entry in 2015, then it means 87 percent were in humanities, arts and commercial studies. That remains the case as we speak today; 87 percent of our students are doing humanities, arts and commercial studies. Surely, this cannot be consistent with the requirements of a modern, knowledge – based society poised to industrialise and to be globally competitive.

Madam Speaker, we have a responsibility to stemitise our education system, not only with respect to STEM subjects proper but also with respect to the entire gamut of humanities, arts and commercial studies; they too need to be stemitised. We have been quite surprised to hear people saying, no we are doing arts, music and such subjects and we do not need mathematics. At the very least, we should be able to count even as you do your arts. These fields must be stemitised. How we propose to do this in higher and tertiary education, science and technology development is work in progress but nearing its end. We intend to produce a green paper for Cabinet consideration and approval after which we will subject it to public debate and input before finalising it and drawing policy and legislative fundamentals from it.

In the meantime, we found it necessary to get started with the 2016 ‘A’-level STEM initiative through ZIMDEF, to address the low pool of only 13 percent and in 2014, this 13% was only 2 500 out of 30 614 students going for university. We think that kind of situation is unacceptable and we are fortunate that as Government, we have ZIMDEF as a readymade instrument that gets contributions from industry to play a positive, progressive, intermediary role while we look for a long term or a lasting solution. I thank you Madam Speaker.

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