The untapped potential of STEM: How South Africa can learn from BRICS

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Science, technology, engineering and mathematics, otherwise known as STEM, is an education programme that looks at incorporating these subjects into an interdisciplinary and applied learning approach.

Globally, STEM education initiatives vary in scope, size, target population and funding sources. The five emerging economies that make up the BRICS coalition also have different strategies on how they implement STEM. This article will give an overview of STEM in each of the BRICS countries and focus on how South Africa can learn from the other member states.

The BRICS country with the most STEM graduates is China, which produces 4.7 million graduates annually. India has 2.6 million graduates and Russia, 561 000 graduates annually. South Africa and Brazil come nowhere near these figures. China’s population has excelled rapidly in the disciplines that make up STEM.

This growth coincides with President Xi Jinping’s aim for his country to become an excellent innovator by 2050. As a result, China is now the top producer of science and engineering bachelor’s degrees, while the United States leads in doctoral degrees. China’s annual expenditure on research and development increased from 1995 to 2013 by a factor of more than 30, and totalled $234 billion (R3.2 trillion) in 2016.

The number of international publications coming out of China has kept in step with this rise as many of its graduates have continued to make inroads in the field of research, contributing significantly to China’s academic outputs in terms of publications and patents. Despite India having the second-highest number of STEM graduates compared to its BRICS partners, a shortage of professionals persists.

Recent articles emanating from the BBC, The Washington Post and the Smithsonian journal report on how Russia outpaces the West in encouraging women to pursue careers in the fields of STEM. Furthermore, 29% of people conducting scientific research worldwide are women, compared to 41% in Russia. And a 2016 study found that 15% of Russia’s inventors were women, compared to 4% in the United Kingdom (Huyer, S., 2015).

The main reasons Russian women pursue STEM disciplines are as a result of parental encouragement and seeing other female role models do so. STEM subjects also carry the potential for employment opportunities.

Source: full article in BRICS Journal’s 6th Issue 

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