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Africa needs more female STEM students to ease its skilled worker shortage

If Africa doesn’t take steps to mitigate its shortage of scientists and engineers, it will have a negative knock-on effect on the continent’s growth, according to experts.

The President of Mauritius, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, who is also a biodiversity scientist, said that Africa is currently facing a dire deficit in workers equipped with engineering and scientific skills, which will hinder its economic growth and cause difficulties for the growing population.

“Only through science, technology, engineering, and mathematics can we as a global community increase the prosperity of our people. But Africa, despite its impressive recent economic growth, remains burdened by a deeply rooted scientific deficit,” she said, as reported by the Guardian.

One of the best ways to overcome this challenge, she added, is to encourage young women to pursue their studies in science and engineering disciplines to help build up the number of skilled workers that can further Africa’s development.

Essential to that would be to “make science more attractive to women”, she suggested.

But how?

Gurib-Fakim went on to outline three strategies the governments of African nations should implement to make it happen:

  1. Raise the profile of female role models;
  2. Challenge the “false distinction” that only “soft” subjects were suitable for girls; and
  3. Improve educational facilities to better suit girls by building the infrastructure they need (e.g. proper toilet facilities)

According to Gurib-Fakim, many girls and young women were put off or taken out of school due to the lack of decent toilets at their school, which, for example, don’t provide much privacy, fail to meet basic hygiene requirements, or there are none specifically for female students, forcing them to share facilities with male students.

The president said this during the “Engineering a Better World” conference in London on Tuesday, hosted by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

At the conference, engineers and international development professionals from around the world met to discuss how to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals introduced by the United Nations last year.

According to a report published by the academy, which explored the importance of engineering skills to the economy, there is “high demand for STEM graduates, and for certain disciplines, the evidence is that demand exceeds supply”.

However, it noted that there is a “well-known” under-representation of women in SET (Science, Engineering, and Technology) occupations.

In a collection of essays on women in SET, also published by the academy, the writers found that not only were there not enough women joining the SET workforce, but a worrying percentage of those who do hold STEM qualifications were not employed in SET sectors, which the report noted was “a huge waste of skilled workers” that was “badly needed”.

Image via Unsplash

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