Dancan Onyango left Kenya in 2017 to study at the Pan African University Life and Earth Sciences Institute in Nigeria and is now the proud owner of a doctorate in environmental management. After graduating from the Institute last May, he returned to Kenya to accept a position as a project manager and lead environmental safeguards officer at an engineering management and development consultancy company.
“You get to see how it is possible for young people to work hard to make ends meet under very difficult economic circumstances in Africa’s largest economy. Most of us carried these great Nigerian lessons back home,” he said of his time at the Institute, housed at Nigeria’s University of Ibadan.
The 33-year-old is one of more than 400 graduates conferred with a master’s or PhD degree at the Pan African University Life and Earth Sciences Institute, which offers young Africans the skills and certifications needed for successful careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – otherwise known as STEM. Funded with $8 million in grants from the African Development Bank and an unspecified amount from the African Union Commission, the Institute boasts 605 students from 45 African countries.
Institute officials say more than a third of its student body are women, part of an effort to transform educational opportunities across the continent. The number of women in STEM fields in Africa is “shocking,” says Professor Esther Akinlabi, the Institute’s director.
“The statistics of students that study STEM-related courses are still very low globally – less than 20% in most parts of the world. The number is even worse on the African continent. Yet technological evolution and global prosperity depend on human capacity in such fields,” she said.
To change the course of education towards encouraging African youth to embrace STEM, the Institute runs seminars for secondary school learners at its incubation centre of excellence, run by Co-Creation Hub, a Lagos-based tech outfit. The seminars introduce students to 3-D remodelling designs, robotics, and interactive systems that can sense and respond to the world around them.
Ten-year-old attendee Michael Oladunjoye said he learned about the STEM seminars through social media. “It raised awareness among students about activating their creative talents and encouraged them to seek a career in STEM,” Oladunjoye said.
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 tech hub in West Africa and the Economic Community of West African States, better known as ECOWAS, competitively selected Nigeria to have one of its major universities hosting the Institute. Bank financing of the Institute, one of the five under the Pan African University, and Bank collaboration with development partners, such as Microsoft and the government of Nigeria, are transforming education by equipping more youth with relevant STEM skills for decent jobs.
Marykathleen Tambeayuk, 29, who is pursuing a PhD in environmental management, says that before enrolling in PAULESI, her career goal was simple – to provide sustainable solutions to the environmental problems in her country, Cameroon.
“PAULESI did not only empower me with the knowledge necessary to achieve my career goal, but also widened my perspective on how this could be achieved by introducing me to the importance and impact of research on achieving positive change in my field,” she said.
The best thing about studying at the Institute, she said, was courses featuring lecturers from across Africa. “[They] gave us exposure to the situation in other African countries through the eyes of those we sought to emulate career-wise,” she added.