Science must be one key driver if Malawi is to fulfill MW2063 agenda—MUST

Prof. Malata, her management team and stakeholder partners pose group photograph with the selected girls

* Promotion of girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-inclined roles have always been MUST’s mission

* The theme for the 2022 Girls Science Camp is ‘Science, Innovation and Technology: Beyond the Pandemic

* In realising that the CoVID-19 pandemic has provided the country with lessons and opportunities

* It has shown the world that science, technology and innovation are integral for us to progress beyond the pandemic

By Duncan Mlanjira

For the country to achieve inclusively wealthy and self-reliant nation agenda — as enshrined in MW2063 vision — science has to be one of the key drivers and more importantly, girls have to be involved.

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This was said by Dr. Atikonda Mtenje-Mkochi, at the launch of Malawi University of Science & Technology (MUST) 2022 Girls Science Camp on Monday — in the university’s endeavour to enhance its position as a Centre of Excellence.

Mtenje-Mkochi, who is chairperson of the Camp’s organising committee, said MUST believes that for Malawi to fulfil the MW2063, every citizen has to be involved and that the promotion of girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-inclined roles have always been MUST’s mission.

The theme for the 2022 Camp is ‘Science, Innovation and Technology: Beyond the Pandemic’ in realising that the CoVID-19 pandemic “has provided the country with lessons and opportunities and it has shown the world that science, technology and innovation are integral for us to progress beyond the pandemic”.

“The Science Camp, therefore, looks forward to engaging the girls in such technologies and innovations,” she said. “We have planned to engage the girls in science projects in our labs, hold inspirational discussions with them through phenomenal women who have excelled in STEM.”

She added that the 100 girls, who have been drawn from across the country, are set for an exciting camp that will afford them an industry tour of  IMOSYS — an organisation that aims at harnessing information and communication technologies (ICTs) — “to assist in solving day to day challenges and improve process efficiencies in health, energy, water, education, agriculture and industrialization”.

“They are also going to Micromek — a Malawian based hardware startup, locally producing low cost unmanned aerial vehicles that will serve the healthcare and environmental monitoring communities in Malawi and across Africa.”

The Camp, a brainchild of MUST Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Address Malata, is being supported by PLAN international, SAVE project at MUST (funded by the World Bank through the Malawi Government), National Commission for Science and Technology, IMOSYS, MICROMEK, EGENCO, amongst others.

“Other organisations have already promised to partner with us next year — so Madam VC, we are assured of sustainability. In years to come MUST will be hub of all things concerning females in STEM not only in Malawi but in the region.”

On her turn, Prof. Malata — “who is unapologetically a champion for girls” — inspired the young minds that they can achieve great milestones if they believe in themselves by also working very hard.

She told them that growing up, she lacked many things necessary, including not having something as simple as shoes, but she remained focused up until she attained her Masters in Australia.

“I was then invited by the Australian University itself to pursue my PhD because I excelled myself when studying for my Masters. I am telling you all this because I want you to believe in yourselves.

“Through hard work, you too shall become someone like myself — a PhD holder and even much more than me,” she said, while emphasizing that they should not be tempted by worldly things, including rejecting arranged early marriages.

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In an interview with the media present, Prof. Malata said at a recent conference for African Vice-Chancellors in Zimbabwe — under the theme of ‘science, technology & innovation: a driver for social development’ — it was discussed that boys should also not be left behind in motivating them to consider science subjects.

She said the content that MUST provides during the Girls Science Camp is also good for boys and plans are to incorporate them in their next camps.

“Boys are struggling with social issues such as drug abuse and some are committing suicide because of lack of lack of guidance. Our science camp is very comprehensive in that it teaches the girls on self-motivation; to stay focused; determination; resilience; persistence and to stay away from drug use.”

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She also disclosed that some of the girls are drawn from schools from sorrounding communities of MUST’s Goliati Campus to create friendships across the country.

In her presentation, Mtenje-Mkochi said the girls will be ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ to overcome the barriers that can prevent access to advancement.

“No girl will be left on the mission of advancement,” she said. “In order to break the ceiling in STEM, girls cannot do it alone, they need the support of males, they need institutional, financial and societal support.

“More importantly they need to support each other. That is why this year the Girls Science Camp is different in that we have different groups of girls — we have senior science university students who have graduated from MUST; we have 1st year students from MUST and then we have girls from the secondary schools.

“Together they are going to learn, together they are going to inspire each other, together they are going to move upwards together towards breaking the ceiling.

The MUST graduates and 1st years who have joined the camp

Prof. Malata was accompanied by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof Jonathan Makuwira and also present were representatives from PLAN International (a major partner in the Girls Science Camp); representative from EGENCO; managing directors of IMOSYS and MICROMEK and senior management of MUST.

The girls are drawn from Mzimba Hora, Kafukule, Nkhata Bay and other parts of the North; Mchinji, Lilongwe, Kamuzu Academy, Dowa in the Centre; Balaka, Zomba, Mangochi in Eastern Region and Mulanje, Blantyre, Phalombe from the South.

Interestingly, those from Mchinji are from a school that is owned by a MUST graduate who, soon after his academic studies at Goliati, went into entrepreneurship — one of the pillars that MUST advocates.

In September, MUST launched Vice-Chancellor Young Engineer Fellowship Academy, which will be offering young minds drawn from various primary and secondary schools across the country in a one-week training programme in engineering and drone technology.

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The programme was initiated by Prof. Malata in association with MUST Institute of Industrial Research and Innovation (MIIRI) and in partnership with UNICEF — who finances the African Drone and Data Academy (ADDA) in which the University trains young Africans aged between 18 years and 24 years in drone and data technology.

Most of the youths in the ADDA programme, drawn across Africa, are either university students or would have graduated from university at a Bachelor’s Degree level, but Malata envisioned the Young Engineer Fellowship to introduce primary and secondary school going students to concepts in engineering and drone technology.

This is in line with Malawi’s long term development blueprint, the MW2063, whose  key pillars are industrialisation, agricultural productivity, commercialisation and urbanisation. The course had variety of ages of the first intake, with one as young as 14 and the oldest at 17 years old.