ZIMBABWE – The Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, Prof Moyo must be hailed for his STEM initiative. His program of sponsoring A level students to study Math, Biology, Chemistry and Physics with a full government scholarship and even with C grades at O level is a step in the right direction. However, worryingly, the program excludes Computer Science which is the most important subject for the 21st century.
Recently, the World Economic Forum in Davos ran under the theme, the Fourth Industrial Revolution and put STEM education as an answer to the challenges of the coming decade. Therefore, Prof Moyo is in lock step with global approach to education in the 21st century.
At Davos, leading executives from Silicon Valley emphasized that the most impactful issues for the millennials include digitalisation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) both narrow and wide. It is estimated that with the rapid advancements in digitalisation and AI, most jobs are going to be wiped out except in the STEM field.
Experts in Davos argued that about 60% of STEM jobs will be in Computer Science because basically, the world is at an inflection point and poised for a quantum leap in the software era. What with emerging technologies like the Internet of Things, self-driving cars, Virtual and augmented reality, cyber security, innovations in the banking sector like the block-chain technology that are already underway in Europe, Asia and the USA in particular.
This is why even USA president Barack Obama has set aside 4 billion dollars to start a computer science revolution in America from kindergarten level up to University. In fact, there is broad agreement in the world today that coding must be as basic a skill as is reading and writing.
In my view, excluding Computer Science from the sponsored A level subjects as a starting point in the Zimbabwe STEM revolution is a serious oversight. If anything, I would suggest that as part of the STEM initiative, Prof Moyo must go further and make Computer Science compulsory as an additional 4th subject for the beneficiaries of this great initiative.
Let’s face it. With the world at the cusp of interesting breakthroughs like self-driving cars that will be almost ubiquitous in USA and European roads in the coming 5 years, the challenges are software not hard engineering since great cars are already there. Therefore, the self-driving platform will present opportunities for young computer science literate graduates to be able to build country specific apps that can create opportunity for creating several companies by even students sitting in a dorm room with the right skills.
Another example is the Internet of Things. The objects to be connected have already been hard engineered. The challenge now is a software challenge for example to allow household appliances like refrigerators, washing machines, cooking stoves etc to be able to communicate with each other, the environment and people.
Moreover, in this century, the most devastating war that may be fought is not against ISIS or a nuclear war by the major powers. The greatest war will be a devastating cyber war that can crash things like a nation’s electrical grid, water, transportation or banking systems without a single shot fired.
It’s dangerous because it can be asymmetric and executed by non-state actors. Without competent Computer Science graduates in Zimbabwe, the country will have to outsource its defenses to other countries like China as is the case currently, which in my view is not sustainable given that though a friend, China has its own geo-strategic interests in Zimbabwe.
Although some have criticized Prof Moyo’s STEM initiative for various plausible reasons in some cases such as resource constraints, in my view, in the short term, this is a good starting point. The ultimate goal should be to have at least 60% of Zimbabwe graduates being STEM.
As other countries are doing, Computer Science (coding aspect) in the long term must be treated as a skill that is as basic as reading and writing to be implemented starting in primary school. The country can probably borrow a leaf from a small country like Slovenia which has heavily invested in Computer Science from Primary to Tertiary level with all degrees like Arts, Commerce, Law and Social Sciences being dual Computer Science and those degrees.
Ultimately, Rome was not built in a day but I strongly believe that now is the time for Prof Moyo to include Computer Science in his STEM initiative as a starting point with incremental mainstreaming at all levels in the coming years.
With this interesting software revolution upon the world, Zimbabwe’s young people must not be left out in shaping the world but must be part of the generation that will make made in Zimbabwe apps that might fundamentally change the world. In a country with little resources to fund grand ideas in hard engineering subjects like space and robots, software is the gateway for our young people since in most cases what will be needed is a great idea and the skills to code it.
All in all, in conclusion, it is exciting that Prof Moyo has started not only this initiative but also debate about the future of education in Zimbabwe and how we position our graduates in the world.