Dr. Glen Christian, chairman of the Jamaica STEM for Growth Foundation, has posited the question, “How can we expect our companies to compete internationally when the majority of our students have no competence in the sciences?”.
He was delivering a message at the recently held Mico STEM Century International Conference held on Tuesday (July 4) at the AC Marriott Hotel in New Kingston.
In providing insight with background statistics, Dr. Christian said, “In 2019, The Mico University [College] approached me seeking support for their plan to build a National STEM Centre. At the time, Dr. Pinnock [principal of the Mico] shared the sobering statistics about the performance of our students in Math and Science in the CSEC exams. He told me that of the 40,000 secondary school students who sit the exams each year, 85 per cent or about 35,000 students don’t even sit one science subject.”
He added, “Of the students leaving Grade 11 each year, less than 40 per cent of them sit ,athematics in CSEC exams. I also learned that just about 15 per cent of students graduating from high school each year will go on to the tertiary level and we will lose up to 90 per cent of our students who excel in the sciences. These are daunting statistics for our education system. [However] the numbers piqued my interest from an economic point of view.”
Christian shared that as the owner of a number of companies, he employs over 900 persons and he is witnessing, first hand, the effects of the negative trends.
He highlighted that resignation, due to migration, has increased, noting that there is a great challenge faced in finding suitable and qualified persons to fill some vacancies.
“You only have to look at the careers section of the newspaper on a Sunday and you’ll realise what I’m talking about. All major companies are now experiencing problems,” he said, highlighting that a shortage of skilled workers has become a pressing issue across almost all industries.
“Our country is in dire need of scientists, engineers, analysts, and creative problem solvers to ensure our economic growth,” he stressed.
Jamaica STEM for Growth Initiative and the private sector
Dr. Christian shared that it is against the background of the worrisome statistics that the Jamaica STEM for Growth initiative was born.
“The Jamaica STEM for Growth taskforce was borne out of discussions between Gary Brooks-Hendrickson, Howard Mitchell and myself, to support the Mico’s plan for the National STEM Centre. We recruited others who share the vision of preparing our workforce to function in a digital economy,” he explained, pointing out that the taskforce comprises several prominent Jamaicans from the private sector and academia.
“We believe that if this initiative is to succeed, it must be led and supported by the private sector, which is the engine of growth in any economy. In 2020, we registered the Jamaica STEM Centre for Growth Foundation – and with a mandate to embed STEM education at all levels of our education system, the vision is to empower students, educators, and professionals to excel in STEM fields, and to leverage skills for national development,” he added.
He shared that the primary focus of the National STEM Centre will be its operation as an outreach arm of the Mico University College.
“It will be equipped with labs and classrooms that facilitate hands-on learning. [It] will provide training for teachers in STEM methodology and also facilitate STEM related activities in teachers’ colleges, and in high schools across the island,” Christian informed,
“By equipping our educators with the necessary tools and knowledge, we can ensure the effective adoption of a STEM-based approach to education throughout Jamaica. Our long-term plan is to establish a knowledge village that will include the STEM Centre, innovation and incubation centres for technology for startups, a medical technology lab, a digital library, and a robotics tech auditorium,” he shared.
Make STEM education a priority
He went on to state that The Jamaica STEM for Growth Foundation will soon launch a capital campaign to fund the construction of a ‘National STEM Centre’.
The campaign, he said, will provide opportunities for companies and individuals to establish their own legacy projects and to support research and development aligned with their needs and interests.
Christian highlighted that the conference presents a unique opportunity to foster great collaboration between academia and the private sector whereby the sessions should see “educators and members of the private sector discussing practical ways of working together to inspire students to embrace STEM.”
Christian said he hoped that the connections formed and the ideas shared will pave the way for the country to be recognised “as a beacon of STEM excellence” and he urged all conference participants to make STEM education a priority in their respective spheres of influence.
“We all have a vital role to play,” he stressed.
“Our cultural icons and sports men and women have put Jamaica on the map through their creative endeavours. In the same way, let us nurture a generation of Jamaicans who can apply scientific and technical concepts to address the challenges we face in our various industries. Let us begin this conference with a spirit of collaboration, determination and a hope for a better tomorrow. Together, we can build a future where STEM education is the cornerstone of progress and Jamaica shines as a global leader in the pursuit of knowledge and innovation,” Christian said.
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