Pamela Shumba and Abigail Mawonde Chronicle Reporters
BENEFICIARIES of the 2016 Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programme risk losing government funding if they underperform in their studies.
Godfrey Gandawa, the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Deputy Minister, yesterday said beneficiaries needed to work hard to avoid being removed from the programme.
The ministry last month launched the STEM initiative that will see the government paying full school and boarding fees for pupils who register for science subjects at public schools for A-Level this year.
A multi-media outreach programme has since been launched to encourage students who sat for their O-Level examinations last year and who in their results got a grade of at least C in Mathematics, Biology, Physics and Chemistry to take a combination of STEM subjects.
Gandawa told The Chronicle yesterday that students registered under the scheme should show seriousness in their studies.
“They’ll have to maintain satisfactory performance, at least a minimum of nine points by the end of the year. Those who don’t perform well will lose it,” the deputy minister said.
“We’re not promoting mediocrity. The fact that we’re investing in this programme means we’re serious as a government and we want to produce the scientists we require at the end of the day.”
He said the government would cater for all eligible students as long as they register at a government, mission or council school this year.
“The initiative only covers tuition and boarding fees for eligible and registered students at public schools. We also have a competition, where schools stand to win a STEM bus and $100,000 cash prize, which can be used to upgrade infrastructure or purchase science laboratory kits.
“I want to encourage students to register early to enable Zimdef to pay their tuition and boarding fees before the start of the Lower Sixth school year,” said Gandawa, adding that no student would be bonded by the government after completing their A-Level.
As part of its outreach programme, the ministry released a statement yesterday saying school heads should liaise with Zimdef officers in their provinces for the payment modalities.
The ministry said it is working with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in administering the programme.
Both ministries, said the statement, are pursuing different but complementary ways in accordance with their respective mandates.
The minister added that the approved capacity of the school for each STEM subject will determine the required enrolment.
The ministry said the programme was introduced after President Mugabe directed that the country must industrialise. The industrialisation requires the transformation of the entire education system through STEM to produce learners with cutting-edge skills that make them relevant nationally and competitive globally
A projected budget of $4 million has been earmarked by Zimdef for the pupils who sat for their O-Level examinations last year.
The Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) 2015 O-Level results were released last week, with candidates doing better in Mathematics and Science subjects, compared to 2014.
Meanwhile, there is a shortage of Science and Mathematics teachers in the country with the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces the hardest hit.
Addressing a curriculum review meeting attended by school heads, provincial and district education officials in Harare on Monday, Primary and Secondary Education Minister Lazarus Dokora said efforts were being made to address the shortage.
As of 2013, the country had a shortage of 1,521 Maths and Science teachers.
“We’re trying to relook at that deficit to see what today’s deficit looks like. In Matabeleland South already we know that we need about 199 Mathematics and Science teachers. In the Midlands there is quite some deficit there. There is need for 74 science teachers…,” said Dokora.
He said Harare was in a much better position.
“Harare is much better. You’re almost at the saturation point of your requirements. We only have a deficit of 24 Science teachers and two Mathematics teachers at A-Level otherwise you’ve all you need in terms of teachers.”
The country lost a number Science and Mathematics teachers to its Sadc neighbours at the height of the sanctions-induced economic hardships.
Most Science and Mathematics teachers left enmasse for South Africa, Botswana, Malawi and Namibia in search of greener pastures.