People drive socio-economic growth, this means that the greater the percentage of people involved in the productive process of a country, the more avenues for national development. This is precisely why a principal expectation of government is the creation of conditions for economic growth and material prosperity.
To achieve this, there must be a concerted effort to improve access to education and economic opportunities, build indigenous capacity and promote social inclusion. In this regard, social inclusion is the method of improving the terms, abilities, opportunities, and dignity of those disadvantaged in the society.
Undoubtedly, any society that sidelines critical groups of individuals shortchanges itself. A society where children, for instance, lack access to education, faces a bleak future.
This is why Interswitch Group, a leading Pan-African electronic payment and digital commerce company, took it upon itself to introduce its Pan-African National Science competition, the InterswitchSPAK Switch-a-Future initiative, to enhance the study of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects in the country, and the African continent at large.
The project is a Switch-a-future initiative aimed at inspiring and rewarding secondary school students in the study of STEM subjects, to enhance their potentials of becoming future innovators and technology entrepreneurs on the continent.
Research has shown that in the next 10-15 years, 70% of the leading businesses will be technology companies. Another research revealed that in these coming years, 90% of our human interactions will be technology driven. If Africa will be relevant in that the perceived technology driven future, it is important to start building and equipping the manpower for that future now. Bearing in mind the level of our technology advancement in Africa, it is imperative that deliberate and far-fetching efforts are put in place to keep Africa included in the future of work.
It is against this background that the Interswitch Group designed the InterswitchSPAK as a platform that encourages and rewards students studying STEM subjects in secondary schools across the continent. It is a known fact that there are few girls in STEM classes in secondary schools and even fewer at the tertiary level. In order to ensure a gender balance on the InterswitchSPAK National Science competition, schools are advised to register at least two girls as part of their best six science students, thereby improving the chances for girls’ participation. Increased female participation is encouraged with all through the competition.
The InterswitchSPAK platform improves the opportunities open to Nigeria and Africa students by exposing them to real-life STEM heroes during its Masterclass sessions. The participating students get the rare chance to listen to successful Africans who have exceled in STEM careers. They are inspired by their real-life experiences and encouraged to do better. In all three sessions of the Masterclass held so far across Nigeria and Kenya, the students have admitted to receiving thought-provoking insights.
InterswitchSPAK is an equal opportunity platform. It is open to students from public and private schools, and has created opportunities for students from public schools to hold their own against those from more privileged schools. It has thrown up scenarios where students from the somewhat educationally disadvantaged states have shared ideas and proffered innovative solutions with their more privileged counterparts.
With the InterswitchSPAK prize money of over $100, 000 annually, six students from Nigeria and Kenya stand chances of acquiring a desired tertiary education. The scholarship funds prize money reduces the burden of tuition fees on the parents/guardians. The students also get laptops and monthly stipends for the duration of the scholarship, plus continuous guidance and mentoring, internship and possible job and career opportunities at Interswitch.
Interestingly, the disruption caused by the novel coronavirus is fast-tracking the deployment of technology and digital transformation in the world. This, in turn, has driven businesses to increasingly include digital solutions in their operations and processes, in order to stay afloat and provide seamless services to their clients.
In the coming years, as majority of human interactions will become more driven by technology, the sponsor of the InterswitchSPAK Switch-a-Future initiative – Interswitch Group – should stand tall and proudly allude to having opened up a dais through which the socio-economic conditions of the African continent were significantly improved.
So, if Africa must solve its own problems, if Africa must grow its own problem solvers, then Africa, including Nigeria, must start building the capacity to keep it relevant in the fourth industrial revolution. Governments and the organized private sector must create more platforms, like InterswitchSPAK, that will help drive social inclusion.