Dancan Onyango left Kenya in 2017 to study at the Life and Earth Sciences Institute at Pan African University in Nigeria and is now the proud holder of a PhD in Environmental Management. After graduating from the institute last May, he returned to Kenya to take up a position as a project manager and senior environmental protection officer at an engineering management and development consultancy.
“You see how it is possible for young people to work hard to make ends meet in very difficult economic conditions in Africa’s largest economy. Most of us took home these great Nigerian lessons,” he said of his time at the institute. housed at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria.
The 33-year-old is one of more than 400 graduates with a master’s or PhD degree from Pan African University’s Life and Earth Sciences Institute, which provides young Africans with the skills and certifications necessary for a successful career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – also known as STEM. The institute is funded with US$8 million in grants from the African Development Bank and an unspecified amount from the African Union Commission, and has 605 students from 45 African countries.
Institute officials say more than a third of the student body are women, part of an effort to transform educational opportunities across the continent. The number of women in STEM subjects in Africa is “shocking,” says Professor Esther Akinlabi, director of the institute.
“The statistic of students taking STEM-related courses is still very low globally — less than 20% in most parts of the world. On the African continent, the number is even worse. Yet technological development and global prosperity depend on the human ability to do so in the fields,” she said.
To change the educational pathway to encourage African youth to embrace STEM, the institute conducts seminars for secondary school students at its incubation center of excellence, operated by Co-Creation Hub, a Lagos-based technology company. The seminars introduce students to 3-D remodeling, robotics, and interactive systems that can sense and respond to the world around them.
Ten-year-old participant Michael Oladunjoye said he found out about the STEM seminars through social media. “It raised students’ awareness of activating their creative talents and encouraged them to pursue a career in STEM,” said Oladunjoye.
The Pan African University Life and Earth Sciences Institute, also known by its acronym PAULESI, could not have found a better home than Nigeria. The country is a technology hub in West Africa, and the Economic Community of West African States, better known as ECOWAS, has selected Nigeria in the competition to have one of its key universities host the institute. The institute’s bank funding, one of five under the Pan African University, and the bank’s collaborations with development partners like Microsoft and the Government of Nigeria are transforming education by equipping more youth with relevant STEM skills for decent jobs.
Marykathleen Tambeayuk, 29, who has a PhD in environmental management, says her career goal before enrolling at PAULESI was simple – to provide sustainable solutions to the environmental problems in her country, Cameroon.
“PAULESI not only equipped me with the necessary knowledge to achieve my career goal, but also broadened my perspective on how this could be achieved by introducing me to the importance and influence of research in achieving positive change in my field” , she said.
The best thing about studying at the institute is the courses with lecturers from all over Africa, she said. “[They] showed us the situation in other African countries through the eyes of those we wanted to emulate professionally,” she added.