The Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation in collaboration with the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology on 19th June 2019 organized a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Advancement symposium at Makerere University. It aimed at addressing the challenges in the innovation sector by calling upon new ways of scientific training to achieve a scientifically proficient and technologically advanced society in the next twenty years (2040). The theme was ‘strengthening national STI system: innovative solutions for scaling up scientific training, research and technology diffusion for national transformation.’

The Ministry of Science Technology and Innovation (MoSTI) was established in 2016 to affirm government commitment to achieve a scientifically proficient and technologically advanced society, a necessity to build a first world country by 2040. In line with the National Development Plan (NDPII) level objectives and vision 2040, the ministry is mandated to enhance the integration of science, technology and innovation into the national development processes; increase technology adoption and enhance scientific training, research and development.

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Advancement symposium has been organized to strengthen the STI system as a necessary catalyst for accelerated economic growth. To create and share innovative solutions towards strengthening public scientific literacy, scientific and technical training, technology adoption, coordination and collaboration among STI system stakeholders. The stakeholders include experts in scientific and technical education, science, technology and innovation enterprise, incubation, academia, researchers, private sector, policy makers and development partners.

With an emphasis on the impact of the STI to national development processes, the symposium objectives are to promote innovative approaches to scientific and technical training: Scientific research and product development, discuss and provide a call to action for new approaches to reorient Uganda’s young population towards STEM and how to improve public scientific curiosity and innovativeness among others.

In his welcome remarks, Mr. David O Obong, The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation stressed that CEDAT is an impeccable player in the field of innovation and the symposium is meant to provide a way forward to the different challenges. It is also to show value for research and innovation, and commercialization of innovation.

Prof. Charles Kwesiga delivering a speech on behalf of Hon. DR. ELIODA TUMWESIGYE The Minister for Science, Innovation and Technology at the ST&I Symposium.

Professor Charles Kwesiga who represented the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation  Hon. Dr .Elioda  Tumwesigye applauded Makerere university for the conducive environment in which the dialogue was held as a way of bringing more stakeholders on board which is in tandem  with the symposium theme. In his speech, he pointed out the significance of women and the youth in promoting science and innovation. “This symposium is meant to address the challenges in the innovation field. We need more ladies who are scientists. Science innovative events are going to be organized to inspire more youth who are scientists.”  The professor explained. He also pointed out the areas which need support such as National Research and Innovation, indigenous knowledge, space science program, and material science institutes and also support to upgrade and improve science technologies in Uganda.

According to Prof.Mary J N Okwakol, Scientific and Technological Human Capital Development are the prerequisites for improving capabilities through skills development. She explained that science begins with basic education. She, however, showed the different challenges especially in the education sector.  At the primary level on average there have been 640,000 candidates per year in the last 5 years, UCE level 320,000 candidates per year which accounts to only 17.83% of all the students; and at the UACE level 100,000 candidates, only 13% opt for sciences. Of these less than 10% are females. An average of 65,000 UACE candidates qualify for admission for higher education.

The challenges that are limiting the development of science and innovation include inadequate funds, inadequate space, gender stereotypes, lack of holistic engagement, high tax rates on scientific equipment, licensing intellectual property which affects; the knowledge and skills gap between industry and academia, intellectual property protection issues and weak implementation of Public Private Partnership (PPP) policy, science education and the complexity of science communication.

The Faculty of Engineering that was started in 1970 according to Prof.Alineitwe the Principal CEDAT has had no serious refurbishment of provision of laboratory equipment, inadequate space despite the increase in the number of students admitted. The funding that is in place is also limited for example the Presidential Initiative targets particular research projects, the African Development Bank (AfDB) equipped mechanical and civil engineering laboratories only. In addition, the government suspension of recruitment has led to closure of laboratories at the College because there are no technicians to manage them; even the technicians available need to be re-equipped to be conversant with the current technologies such as I-labs.

 Mrs. Susan Opok Tumusiime of Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) said there is need for review of the Affirmative action policy process to make sure more women are included in science and innovation. “…..there should be continuous sensitization because girls are told they are not good enough.” She believes role models would cause a drastic change in reinventing the wheels of gender pedagogy especially with gender stereotypes.

Group photo with participants after the Symposium

“The attitude and mindset change must begin with the professors championing the innovations by for example encouraging the girl child to take up sciences.” Said Mr. Robert Kisalama from Enable Uganda.

Professor William Kyamuhangire, from Food Technology and Business Incubation Centre (FTIBC)-Makerere University noted that partnership is a necessity. Partnering with the Business schools, Banking, Finance and Human Resource Management would ensure means of transferring technology from those that create it to those who need it. The ministry should also challenge the academia to deliver through grants, rewards and incentives.

On the communication of science, Dr.Ivan Lukanda said that the media is the most important platform through which science is communicated. It is a perfect tool as far as science is concerned. If science is not sold to the media, it might not see the light of the day. Dr.Lukanda challenged the scientists to desist from talking only amongst themselves. “…if you keep talking to fellow scientists, you keep science from being communicated.”  He added that the department of Journalism and Communication has partnered with Science for Development (SDVnet) in building better ways of sharing science and better ways of marketing technology. “Science is not finished until it is communicated” he emphasized.

In his closing remarks, Mr. Maxwell Otim Onapo, The Director Science Innovation and Research, Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation stressed the need to show cause beyond academic excellence and getting grants as the reasons for research. “There is need to put things into context, the Ministry is well positioned to put into account all that has been crystallized today,” he emphasized.

Story by Elizabeth Namara