Form three students in both public and private secondary schools with a special interest in Science and Mathematics have a chance to compete with their peers across the country in a national competition that will see the winner receive a scholarship worth Ksh 1.5 million, a laptop, signage for their school while the 1st and 2nd runners up will get Ksh 750,000 and Ksh 150,000 respectively and a laptop each.
The competition, dubbed InterswitchSPAK, was unveiled on Thursday through a partnership between the Ministry of Education, UNESCO, NACOSTI, key stakeholders and integrated electronic payments and commerce company Interswitch. InterswitchSPAK competition gives secondary schools in the 47 counties a chance to nominate their best six Form 3 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) students for the competition. The students must be aged between 15 and 18 years of age at the time of submission.
The year-long programme targets to online-register at least 12,000 students across the country in a period of six weeks, followed by a national qualifying contest to be held in about 50 centers countrywide. This will help to determine the best 54 students who will proceed to the next round and feature in the InterswitchSPAK Kenya 1.0 – National TV Quiz show to determine the top nine STEM students in Kenya. The programme also includes a mentorship session (MasterClass) where top notch speakers will take turns to interact and share real-life experiences with the students thereby laying a foundation for a solid career in STEM fields for them.
The competition has been initiated amidst concerns that the quality of STEM education across Africa has steadily and gradually declined over the last few years. Research has blamed this on various challenges such as poverty, inadequate funding, lack of interest from students, unqualified/untrained teachers, inadequate learning aids and incessant strikes or industrial actions.
“Research has it that in the next 10 -20 years most of the jobs available will have STEM integrated into them. So, for us at Interswitch, we began to ask the question: is Kenya ready for this, is the African continent ready for this? said Cherry Eromosele, Group Chief Product and Marketing Officer at Interswitch.
“In answering this question, we realized that we must nurture and mold the students who are already studying STEM subjects, while also inspiring others to take up STEM subjects as they come of age,” she added.
She explained that InterswitchSPAK provides a platform that is preparing and empowering the future Africa problem solvers. “These future scientists, we believe, will not only solve problems, they will build and sustain businesses that will grow the Kenyan and African economy at large,” she added.
Speaking at the event, NACOSTI Director General Dr Moses Rugutt said the competition will be an annual event with a key message of raising the interest of students, parents, teachers and other key stakeholders in STEM education and its application in Kenya.
“The STEM programme will by increasing the number of students interested in STEM subjects address national development objectives and challenges that require scientific skills to resolve. On the other hand, students derive maximum benefit from their participation and meeting their counterparts from other countries. Such experiences are never in vain,” Dr Rugutt said.
He welcomed the initiative noting that it will go a long way in helping the government bridge the existing STEM gap and help the country achieve its Vision 2030 economic blueprint. “The government is determined to reverse the negative trends through initiatives such as the InterswitchSPAK that will popularize STEM fields in our education system,” he said.
On her part, UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa representative Dr Alice Ochanda said that in promoting the various opportunities for sound education for the Kenyan students especially as it relates to STEM, InterswitchSPAK is being introduced predominantly for high school students to chart the ideal career path and drive them towards full optimization of their potential and fulfillment of their dreams (either as an inventor or entrepreneur), thereby making Kenya and the world at large a better place to live in.
“InterswitchSPAK is a unique concept developed with a mix of education, technology and entertainment, to identify, promote and ignite the right support and reward for STEM students/ stakeholders in Africa,” she said. “This competition is very inspirational and the ultimate tool for enhancing participation of young people in STEM education and application.”