July this year we organised a STEM Fair, to encourage primary and secondary school students to take-up science subjects in their respective schools.
We worked in partnership with young graduates and students pursuing science courses in different universities in and outside the country, with the support of Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) and Adjunct Prof Padmanabhan Seshaiyer from George Mason University (USA).
Our major objective in the STEM— Fair (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) was to encourage students to get into those areas while science teachers are trained on better ways of delivering the subjects that excite students and facilitate easy understand.
Last Saturday, July 4, this year, at the Arusha Secondary School, more than 200 primary and secondary school students from different schools across the region took part in a STEM Fair, in which a number of students showcased their scientific research projects.The showcasing event was meant to encourage more students to get into science as well as free them from fears that science subjects are difficult.
The Projekt Inspire Director, who is a medical practitioner, Dr Lwidiko Mhamilawa described the STEM Fair as a good platform for school children to get involved in science subjects, an area which is not exploited in the country.
The STEM Fair which was organised by Projekt Inspire in collaboration with NM-AIST is part of the preparation for the Nelson Mandela Week at NM-AIST which will be held from July 13-18 at the NM-AIST campus, in Tengeru-Arusha.
The Nelson Mandela Week at NM-AIST is an annual event organised by NM-AIST in honor of the iconic African leader, the late Nelson Mandela for his passion and campaign for the promotion and development of science and technology in Africa. The recent STEM Fair comprised STEM exhibitions, lectures and laboratory experiments involving students from the various participating schools.
Mhamilawa said before the workshop, 30 teachers from primary and secondary schools were trained on the best teaching approaches that encourage students to ‘fall in love’ with science subjects in their respective schools.
“In the training, which was held at NM-AIST on July 02, teachers were drilled on how to engage students in learning STEM subjects in an enjoyable way with a view to enabling them to perform well in the area,” Dr Lwidiko said.
Vanessa Chilunda, a Tanzanian student pursuing Biochemistry studies at St. Lawrence University in USA, who is the Executive Secretary of Projekt Inspire initiative said the idea of the project is to inspire and share the excitement and pleasure of properly delivered STEM education among students, with a view to improving students’ performance as well as encouraging more youth to opt for STEM fields for the country’s sustainable socio – economic development.
“Before coming up with this idea, we were not pleased with the number of students taking up science subjects in schools, that’s why we teamed up and came up with this initiative…and we are working on a volunteering basis.
For instance, I am in a three-month leave, but I can’t stay home so we joined hands to do something for our Tanzanian community…” Chilunda said.
“Our target is to encourage as many students as possible, particularly girls who always think that science subjects are for male students.”
She further said that apart from encouraging students to take up STEM, the project also supports students in career guidance.
“There are students who want to pursue science, but they don’t know…so Projekt Inspire is there to guide them.”
She said that the organisation aims at creating career awareness and enlightening secondary school students on STEM related career paths with high prospects.
One of the major objectives of this organisation is to unleash youth’s potential by actively involving them in making informed career decisions by offering them career guidance and inspiration .
STEM offers students numerous opportunities for future career paths. Projekt Inspire helps the students to develop interest in STEM related fields, trigger their creativity and research skills and thereby contribute to the development of well-rounded education that is essential for the country’s sustainable development.
A US-based volunteer from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Virginia, Praduyuta Padmanabhan with two other undergraduate students from Princeton University, also took part in the STEM Fair by encouraging Tanzanian students to take up science subjects.
She implored the need for teachers to use friendly methods of teaching as well as using teaching materials, which are within their localities.
“Teachers need to teach students something that will boost their critical thinking and creativity. If they do so, they will succeed in producing as many scientists as possible,” she suggested.
A science teacher at Arusha Secondary School, Katalo Laurent described the fair as an important avenue for students to easily learn and understand science.
He suggested the need for more STEM Fairs in schools, noting that such events make students remember more as well as builds confidence amongst students.
“The challenge I see in our schools is lack of lab equipment and even teachers motivation,” another science teacher, Edwin Marwa said, calling for the government to ensure that school labs are well-furnished to scale-up STEM in the country.
One of female students at Kaloleni Secondary school, Tuganiwe Mbwiga commended Projekt Inspire for coming up with such initiative, saying: “To many of us, the fair acts as an eye-opener, as there are many things which we were not aware of, but now I see the road open to STEM.”
A 17-year-old Tuganiwe, who wants to be a surgeon, encouraged other students to do science subjects, because of its potentialities.
“In this modern world science is everything. My plan is to become a computer scientist,” said Humphrey Mrema, a Form Four student at Kaloleni Secondary School.
Mrema and his group members managed to build a home-made air condition in their endeavors to come up with cost-effective air conditioners.
The Vice Chancellor of NM-AIST Prof Burton Mwamila said: “STEM is the unquestionable multi-faceted engine for sustainable development. The very strikingly rapid development of South Korea and China, for instance, is mainly attributable to adoption and development of capability in, and efficient and effective use of STEM in pursuit of sustainable development.”
“In the early seventies when China helped the construction of the TAZARA Railway Line it was being looked down upon by the West to the extent of nick-naming the Tanzania-Zambia transport facility a “Bamboo Railway Line”.
Today, China has by far the world longest bridge, a 26 mile long off-shore bridge linking Qingdao City with two off-shore islands.”
“This points to the important fact that properly developed STEM capacity and capability coupled with a critical mass of STEM enthusiasts is what Tanzania and sub-Saharan Africa need in order to leapfrog to prosperity and sustainable development within the foreseeable future. This is what NM-AIST has been established for – all that we do is STEM related – and the Nelson Mandela Week at NM-AIST is intended to demonstrate that,” Prof Mwamila said.