All over the world there is a lot of talk about what the future of work will look like; especially when technologies come into the picture. It will not be too far-fetched to imagine that the world of work will completely change in the nearest future. If you think about technologies like machine learning algorithms, artificial intelligence, robotics, computing vision and the rest of them, it becomes clear that we need to reconsider the role of humans in the labor market very soon. More importantly, for countries to fit in properly in the world order of the future, they must invest heavy amounts in building capacity. Countries with very little investments in developing human capacity in science and technology, will definitely not fare well in that new order.
This problem is multiplied on the African continent and especially in Nigeria. Soon enough, job shortage may not be the only problem that Nigeria faces but instead a shortage of skill to fill available job openings.
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is the field to focus on when it comes to pushing the boundaries of technology. However, in this field, the shortage of skills has not been the result of only bad infrastructure, poor policy implementation, and an outdated curricula. Something quite stronger is in play here, and it is the cultural shortcoming that continues to perpetuate low support for women and girls in technology. Over the years, there have been many initiatives to grow support for women and girls in tech through technology trainings, and problem-solving seminars but they are proving to be more and more expensive for the organizers.
To plan a training program takes quite a lot of time and capital for organizers to pull it off. And very often the fees charged to offer these trainings are on the low side in order to attract attention and create accessibility.
Outfits like “Tech Needs Girls” and “Afro Tech Girls” are just a couple with the mandate of training girls in technology. “Tech Needs Girls” is a training scheme organised by Soronko Academy, a Ghanaian initiative founded by software engineer, Regina Honu, in 2013. The initiative organizes code sessions with courses in entrepreneurship and digital skills for businesses.
The Cost Problem
But this is no easy task especially with the negligible budget allocations for education in general, in Africa. According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics, countries in sub-Saharan Africa spend, on average, just 0.5% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on science, research and development. In 2018, Nigeria’s federal government budgeted only 7.04% of the annual budget on education, far below the 26% of national budget recommended by the United Nations. This was only an very slight improvement from the 6% of the previous year. In 2010, 2012 and 2017, World Bank reports say Senegal spent 6.5%, 5.9% and 6.2% of its GDP on education, all significantly below the recommended benchmark of the United Nations.
Honu laments the predicament she faces with organizing these trainings, as she recently stated the following about their programs;
One training cycle which runs for 6 weeks for a minimum of 25 people costs about $5,000 -$8,000 not including the costs of purchasing the equipment. When equipment costs come in you are looking at about $15,000 for 25 people in addition to the running cost which is $5,000 -$8,000. These are the costs when you run your own facility in certain areas.Regina Honu
Honu says to cut costs, the team sometimes has to seek the support of the communities where the training programs are held to provide things like a venue.
“The cost of running a training cycle is dependent on the training type. A lot of factors have to be considered and it varies with each program. The cost of securing a venue alone can start from N50,000 (US$139) for one day,” says Adeola Shasanya, who is the co-founder of the “Afro Tech Girls”. In considering these costs she also stated that one has to look for venues with computing equipment that are key to these trainings.
Sometimes costs can be mitigated when participants pay for the course, or if parents and friends show a lot of interest.
Course logistics is not the only problem, finding adequate trainers is a problem too.
“Some trainers are good at the technical aspect but cannot teach. Some do not have prior experience with teaching and some also find it hard to simplify the coding to the understanding of the girls,” says Honu.
Sub-Saharan Africa needs 17 million more teachers by 2030
According to UNESCO, Sub-Saharan needs about 17 million teachers by 2030, which may not look feasible at the moment because of the harsh conditions faced by teachers all over the continent.
STEM education, nonetheless needs to move beyond coding and software development classes to embracing the full spectrum of what the acronym denotes. What this field of learning offers goes beyond learning to write lines of code to developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are required to thrive in the future.
To round up, Honu stated quite succinctly that; “We want to develop confident girls who are tech-savvy problem solvers.”