In this interview with Funmi Ogundare, the Director of STEM METS Resources, Mrs Jadesola Adedeji explained why education stakeholders, government and corporate bodies should put forward an actionable policy that would ensure that students, who possess relevant technical and soft skills, can aspire for higher level skills and career. She said the move will bring them out of the poverty level and financial sustainability will be more attainable
What is STEM METS Resources and how has it been able to enhance learning outcomes?
STEM METS Resources Limited provides 21st century skills training to children and youths in Nigeria using Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-based activities and programmes, with the aim of preparing them for future workplace and as contributors to the economic development of our great nation, Nigeria. By investing in early childhood development and fostering creativity and innovation, we play a crucial role in bridging the gap created from the mismatch between traditional academic skills and other skills required in the 21st century workplace. Employment-ready skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, communication, collaboration and analytical skills are crucial, and we believe in catching them young. Our services can also be integrated into school curriculum to provide a very comprehensive learning experience that teaches emerging cutting-edge technologies in the STEM field, robotics, as well as engineering principles.
Since its introduction in 2014, how has STEM METS impacted children and the economy in general?
For the past five years, over 70 workshops and 7,000 learners have had access to our programmes across South-west Nigeria and we remain committed to delivering world-class STEM learning to Nigerian children and youths to position them for the future global workforce, inspire creativity and innovation, and foster technological advancement in Nigeria. We are proud of these achievements, but are equally aware that we have hardly scratched the surface.
Our impact is also in the workforce as we employ working mothers seeking a part-time position that suits their family life while still being able to earn and contribute to the job market. We are thinking of the future; the earnings of those who are educated, such as college graduates are typically higher than those of people who are not. Hence research would support the notion that the social, economic and health status of individuals is undoubtedly impacted by their access to academic resources and professional careers. If higher inequality is associated with lower social mobility on a personal level, then increasing academic opportunities for the marginalised population would certainly lead to increased levels of economic advancement for the population as a whole.
The famous economist, James Heckman, in his research, suggests that for every one dollar invested in early childhood educational intervention programmes in underserved areas, returns $7 to $12 to society which directly influences economic, health and social outcomes for individuals and society. We want to develop and nurture creative thinkers who will bring innovation into solving local problems, inspire entrepreneurship and also teach them how, rather than what to think.
How do you access children you have supported over the years?
Our programmes are offered as after school classes, holiday camps, private classes, field trips and excursions. We have academic partnerships with schools which enabled us to have access to children in these schools; additionally, collaborating with NGOs such as Sustainable Education and Enterprise Development (SEED) and LEAP Africa. They allow us to have access to a large student population/learner population. We have impacted children across private schools, public schools, rural schools in Lagos, Ogun and Oyo States.
What are projections for the next five years on how to further invest in the lives of the youths?
Our projections for the next five years include, but not limited to reaching 50,000 learners, starting a STEM centre for skills development that includes STEM education, teacher training programmes, among others, that will further establish our position as the premiere provider of world class STEM educational programmes and services in Nigeria.
You partnered Airbus Foundation to create the Little Engineer Initiative and Robotics in 2017, how would you describe the impact on the lives of the youths?
I am very excited about this collaboration and the fact that STEM METS was chosen as a partner in Sub- Saharan Africa. Recognising the human capital potential in Africa, Airbus Foundation is investing in its future workforce by offering STEM-based programmes for learners who may be starting to think of their future careers. The target for the Airbus project is learners age 11 and 16 years and the primary objective is to instil in learners the passion for science, technology, engineering and maths by introducing them to the world of robotics, programming as well as the aviation and space industries.
The partnership is also designed to unleash their potential and nurture their passion so they can contribute to the future of Airbus and be aware that there is a huge industry waiting for them. The impact is immense. The number of learners advancing through this particular programme has reached over 2,400 to date. Some students, specifically in the areas who do not have access to this type of STEM content status have been so inspired that they have gone on to use their initiative and creativity to make robots of their own. Recently, as a result of an Airbus workshop at Midabright Praiz Academy, a low-cost private school in Lagos, a student created his own electric toy car.
What efforts are you making to reach public schools and low-income private schools across the country?
Our desire is to ensure that all children have access to STEM education, particularly in the underserved communities through long-term, sustainable programmes and partnerships. In Lagos alone, there are about one million children registered across 18,000 schools and up to 80 per cent of these children attend low cost/income private and public schools. In essence, a large proportion of the future working age population will come from these communities and this is where we know where the greatest needs are. By possessing relevant technical and soft skills, students will be empowered to aspire for higher level skills careers and elevation from the poverty cycle and financial sustainability will be more attainable. We are seeking more corporate partnerships that would like to collaborate on a sustainable long-term STEM programmes. Recognising the human capital potential in Africa, Airbus Foundation is already investing in its future workforce by offering sustainable STEM-based programmes for learners in Nigeria. I would like to see more of our local companies do the same.
Do you foresee challenges in doing this, and how do you intend to surmount them?
There are many challenges ahead, of which access to quality, skilled workers to implement our programmes is a major one. According to World Economic Forum report, shockingly only 18 per cent of our working age population have tertiary education and only six per cent of our workforce is employed in high skilled jobs so in fact, our mission is dual purposed: to develop future talent and also hire and reskill current graduates. We are interested in being part of a creative movement influencing culture through collaboration and ensuring that there is a collective impact model of stakeholders in education, corporate, technology, manufacturing and government identify areas and put forward actionable things to spare head, advocate and influence change. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.