By Tefo Mohapi
The month of May, 2012 (and June so far) has seen some great achievements by Africans and Africa in the fields of Science and Technology.
We had the first ever non-governmental succesful mission to the International Space Station (ISS) by Dragon, a spacecraft made by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX). SpaceX is a company owned by South African Elon Musk.
Eight African countries, led by South Africa, were awarded 70 percent of the construction and hosting of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) telescope. This also meant that Africa will be home to the world’s largest ever supercomputer once completed. It was made clear that the African bid was the best and only socio-economic, political and financial concerns led to 30 percent being handled by Australia and New Zealand.
We’ve also recently just had (as reported by CP-Africa) the launch of Nigeria’s kasuwa.com which was launched by Rocket Internent Nigeria to fill a gap in the market and compete with Amazon.com.
These are just some of the many daily achievements and successes by Africa and its people in the felds of science and technology, yet as highlighted when awarding the SKA rights, it is the socio-economic and political concerns that mainly hold Africa back from achieving its full potential in these fields.
It all starts with the education system, where dissapointingly enough, South Africa (leading economy in Africa) produces some of the worst learners in Mathematics and Science as highlighted by Professor Jonathan Jansen in his contribution to Moeletsi Mbeki’s book “Advocates for change: How to overcome Africa’s challenges”. What is even more disturbing is that South Africa has the highest education spending on the African continent and yet it features at the bottom of the table of the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) table amongst comparative scores. This problem, although acute in South Africa, is not unique to South Africa. Improvement of mathematics and science education at school level is imperative if Africa is going to grow prosperously and harness the potential which already exists.
Also key to harnessing the latent science and technology potential of Africa is an enabling environment which needs to be created by our politicians through policies that enable entrepreneurship and specifically encourage entrepreneurship in the fields of science and technology as well as the use of technology in business and government.
As both Elon Musk’s SpaceX and the SKA win has illustrated, the sky is no more the limit.