“Africa’s large youth population and positive economic growth potential primes the continent to play a leading role in the Digital Economy. However, successfully navigating the complexities presented by vast amounts of data in today’s hyper-connected world requires excellent Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills. We urgently need to address the scarcity of STEM skills among our youth.”
These were the words spoken by Robert Enslin, President of Global Customer Operations and Executive Board member of SAP, at the inauguration of the SAP Auditorium at the Cape Town Science Centre. He was joined in a panel discussion by the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, who stressed the importance of science and technology education in building a globally competitive modern economy. “Science and technology matter because the world needs to devise new solutions to sustainable development, so as to provide food, energy and security to our communities. We are short of skills and must fill the gap,” commented Pandor at the event that took place during National Science Week.
According to data from the World Economic Forum, Africa has the largest youth demographic in the world, with the continent’s working-age population expected to double to one billion people over the next 25 years. However, less than 1% of African children leaving school have basic mathematical and science skills.
Enslin said it is critical for forward-looking businesses invested in the future to partner with government and educational institutions to foster a culture of learning and skills development among youth. “We need to collectively start addressing the serious skills shortage by creating opportunities for youth to learn new skills that will make them marketable when it comes time to seek employment. For the next decade, Africa will add 11 million people to its workforce every single year. As the fastest-growing digital consumer market, and with a wealth of young labour, Africa is perfectly poised to take a lead in the Digital Economy – but we need to ensure our youth are properly trained, especially in the ICT sphere, and prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that the Digital Economy can offer.”
A group of children from West Riding Primary School in Cape Town also showed off their newly-learned technology skills at today’s event with a live Africa Code Week coding demonstration. Julie Cleverdon, Director of the Cape Town Science Centre, says these kinds of interactive experiences help to foster a strong passion for maths and science among the youth. “The Centre offers a platform for science and education awareness that is used by many other organisations and NGOs that are involved with educating our youth. We have enjoyed SAP’s invaluable support since 2011 via a host of initiatives, including volunteering, sponsorship and mentorship.”
Enslin added that SAP recognises the need to contribute towards upskilling the youth of Africa and is working with governments, schools, science centres and other businesses across the continent to provide access to solid STEM education that will help contribute towards building a sustainable future for the African continent. To this end, SAP also recently announced Africa Code Week that will take place across 15 countries from 1 to 10 October. The programme, which is a foundation for SAP’s Skills for Africa initiative, will see an estimated 20 000 children across the continent, ranging in age from 8 to 24 years, participating in software coding workshops.
“We strongly believe that this integrated approach to skills development, and ultimately job creation, will create a new generation of talented African software developers, entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists who can drive the innovation agenda on the continent for the benefit of all who call Africa home,” concluded Enslin.