By NEF Country Ambassador, The Gambia: Kebba-Omar Jagne
The Gambian education system requires students to specialize in one academic track as early as when they reach secondary school in an effort to guide their higher education experiences. However, due to misinformation and skewed sectorial developmental progress in each of the areas, certain tracks are under populated. A startup called M.O.V.A.A.R. is trying to challenge that through skills formation and training.
At the secondary school level, the standard subject areas covered in the basic education curriculums prior are categorized into the Sciences, Commerce, and the Arts. At this stage, they are also offered at intermediate or advanced levels, along with the introduction of new subject matters altogether. While the selection process factors in the input of parents/guardians and class teachers and counselors, ultimately, the decision is left to the student. The Commerce field is often the most popular with the Arts trailing behind, and the Sciences remain the least popular.
Among the reasons for the low interest in the Sciences is a preconceived notion that they tend to be more difficult. Lack of prospects to succeed in industry given the few research and scientific Institutions around them and the number of years it takes to complete medical school are also used to generalize all Sciences based disciplines.
Making Our Visions and Aspirations Reality (M.O.V.A.A.R.) use project based learning to equip students with relevant career and collegiate skills that assist them in making better informed post K-12 choices based on their previous specializations. In 2015, M.O.V.A.A.R. launched a pilot of its 12-week Skills Formation Program (S.F.P.), which concluded with students submitting solution proposals for community challenges they identified with the support of skills coaches.
A surprising 40% of final proposals submitted in the S.F.P. this year were recorded as being Science based. One particular student at the Nusrat Senior Secondary School, Alpha Bah, submitted a solution proposal reached as a result of experiments he carried out; having identified a popular chowder dish as being a major risk factor for ulcer patients. Speaking with academic counselors and administrators from the Greater Banjul area that were present at the pilot closing ceremony where the proposal was presented, revealed their desire for more students in the Sciences at the secondary school level but also in Technology at the tertiary education level. It inspired MOVAAR to target for its next program intake recruits largely from the Science track from across the country.
Rather than it marking the end of their experience in the SFP, the solution proposals can be further developed into full projects – a process MOVAAR encourages by providing students with developmental support, which can lead to admission into local project incubators. A recent partnership with the Gambia Startup Incubator, founded in 2015 to support startups in various fields as a way to foster and promote entrepreneurship, ensures this possibility for youth.
While more needs to be done particularly to support job creators and better prepare youth at an even earlier stage than the secondary school level, although too early to measure its impact, initiatives like MOVAAR’s Skills Formation Program and Project Incubator might contribute to more students opting for the Sciences. Rebalancing the sectorial developmental progress will take years to accomplish, meanwhile perhaps Gambia has taken a step toward reducing the misconceptions the about Science and Technology disciplines.
Call to Action: If you are an African diaspora with the U.S. or Canada as your host country and would like to utilize your skillsets to the benefit of youth that could be from your home country, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more information on the MOVAAR Skills Formation Program. You’ll receive free Coaching and Facilitation Training and a first user experience of an innovative web platform.