Zimbabwe needs more Engineers

The founder of modern Singapore Lee Kuan Yew, who recently passed on, wrote in his historical memoirs From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000, that he always had misgivings about the development of African states remarking that he was convinced “that they were a different people playing to a different set of rules.

Commenting on Ghana, Yew said “I was impressed, but wondered why a country so dependent on agriculture should have its brightest and best do Classics – Latin and Greek”

Yew’s sentiments rang true after I saw a worrying infographic on Professor Jonathan Moyo’s Facebook Page which shows the proportion of the Zimbabwean population who attain various levels of education.

The image (below) shows that, as expected, most Zimbabwean children go to primary school though the number drops for high school. A reasonable number does some form of higher education, in the form of Colleges, Universities and other tertiary institutions.

What is worrying, however, is the tiny number which goes into science and Engineering.

A very tiny percentage of students are studying Science and Engineering (represented by the red dot)  - Image thanks to Jonathan Moyo
A very tiny percentage of students are studying Science and Engineering (represented by the red dot)
– Image thanks to Jonathan Moyo

What this means is that we have very few people working to come up with (local) solutions to the big problems we face such as power shortages, poor roads networks, water supply issues, drainage, telecommunications, industrial production and mineral extraction.

This is precisely why, despite having a lot of daylight hours, there are few initiatives focusing on solar energy. The few electrical engineers we produce are all sucked up by ZESA and they have no incentive to innovate from within the company. Doing so, after all, will likely put ZESA out of business.

It’s also worrying because we are not focusing on our strengths. The country is blessed with good land for agriculture and abundant mineral resources yet we do not have qualified people taking advantage of this. We do not have local engineers producing mining machinery or coming up with new and more efficient methods of mineral purification. Similarly we do not see revolutionary agricultural or irrigation methods- instead we rely on the Israelis to install simple things like drip irrigation systems.

Like Yew said, it seems like we are playing to a different set of rules. We may not have our best and brightest studying the classics but we have too many people- way too many- studying humanities and business degrees. In fact we have so many graduates of disciplines like Psychology, Political Science, Business Studies, Marketing and Economics that people now think the degrees themselves are useless. There is nothing wrong with the degrees, except that the already poor job market is flooded.

What we need are more people in the sciences. Zimbabwe needs more engineers, computer scientists, programmers, physicists and mathematicians. The problems we face need practical solutions suited to our country. Resuscitation of the industries, better roads, power generation, better and more TV and radio channels and the other problems we regularly complain about need solutions and none but ourselves will solve them.

The myth that sciences are hard and should be studied by “smart” people should be dispelled. Government must do more to encourage young people to take up the sciences by having science fairs, community projects and other initiatives which will increase interest in the sciences.

And everyone, especially people interested in technology and technology firms, such as Econet, Telecel, ZIMPLATS and others should support science education. We all have a part to play.

I’ll do what I can. Watch this space.

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