UCT App to Tackle STEM Skills Shortage

The University of Cape Town (UCT) has launched a Web-based and mobile application to increase high school learners’ awareness and interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and genomic fields.

The e-learning , known as mGenAfrica, was launched on Saturday, at UCT’s new Lecture Theatre. It aims to promote engagement between high school learners and research staff working in genomics and other health research fields, through an interactive live chat interface.

The platform also hopes to improve learners’ knowledge of their life sciences school curriculum by providing freely accessible learning materials, including videos, live chat sessions, a career corner, translation corner and online quizzes.

Collaboration and participation

Dr Vicky Nembaware, project coordinator and bioinformatician at UCT, explains: “mGenAfrica makes learning life sciences fun and promotes careers in the STEM field. Initiatives such as mGenAfrica are preparing SA for the future and moulding the next generation to be at the forefront of technology and science.”

mGenAfrica is an initiative established by the Pan African Bioinformatics Network for Human Heredity and in Africa. It is supported by various stakeholders, including the Human Heredity and Health in Africa Consortium working groups, the Sickle Africa Coordinating Center, and UCT.

The mGenAfrica Project was established to create collaboration between research employees working in genomics and biomedical research around Africa.

The project’s recent extension into an app aims to improve knowledge, attitudes and practises of high school learners and to encourage participation in genomics and life sciences research. The app is currently available on Android.

Few skills for a growing market

According to a report by Ambient Insights, the African e-learning market is witnessing massive growth, spurred by public-private partnerships.

It points out that Africa’s e-learning market doubled from 2011 to 2016, reaching $513 million. SA is Africa’s largest e-learning market, followed by Angola, Nigeria and Tunisia.

“It has been widely accepted that skills in the STEM fields are the way of the future with the fourth industrial revolution upon us. However, SA still lags behind in this field, reporting some of the lowest levels of mathematics and science education in the world,” according to UCT.

Last year’s edition of the JCSE ICT Skills Survey revealed that, despite a number of initiatives to bring technology into education, the education system is still not generating a cohort of work-ready youth within the ICT field.

Adrian Schofield, JCSE manager of applied research, explained at the time that the ICT skills shortage continues to constrain SA’s capacity to increase economic activity and create jobs.

In April, SAP’s innovation platform, SAP Next-Gen, collaborated with UCT’s department of information technology to launch the Next-Gen Lab, a physical space that creates a platform where students can interact with companies to gain insight into industry related disruptive technologies.

This article first appeared in ITWeb.