When the government launched the secondary schools science congress in the 1960s, the idea was to nature extra-curriculum skills among students in in the sciences in preparation for the open learning inherent in higher education.
For decades the annual event brought top students in the sciences from various schools across the country together in regional competitions where bright ideas were showcased and critiqued.
The science congress culminated in a national weeklong conference where regional champions competed for the national honors that often included a sizable trophy, a supply of learning resources or a field trip or similar incentive.
The free secondary education and curriculum changes experienced in the last fifteen years has however seen this once key event in the school calendar shift down the priority scale and participation has gradually waned.
It is in this backdrop that Safaricom last year launched the Young Scientist Kenya programme that reinvents the innovative science congress and takes it a notch higher in tandem with today’s rapidly evolving technology industry.
YSK offers an opportunity for young people across Kenya to demonstrate and showcase their scientific talent and is modeled on the British Telecom Young Scientist and Technologist Exhibitions (BT – YTSE) of Ireland founded in the 1960s by Dr. Tony Scott and the late Fr. Tom Burke.
The programme is hosted within BLAZE by Safaricom and kicked off last June with mobilization and enrollment of students for a pilot phase across 10 counties.
Last week YSK marked a major milestone by holding the first Young Scientists Kenya National Science and Technology Exhibition.
The exhibition brought more than 160 secondary school students for three days at the vast KICC grounds presenting more than 100 projects under the theme, “Making STEM Education Accessible to All’’.
According to the World Economic Forum, WEF, while Africa makes up more than 15 per cent of the world’s population, the continent’s contribution to research and development of new innovation is less than three per cent of the global output.
This has seen the continent rely on costly outsourced experts in several key industries particularly medicine and engineering.
The urgency to train and nature more young people has further been necessitated by growing demand for jobs that require literacy in science, technology engineering and mathematics.
YSK is thus central to achieving the economic goal of more job opportunities in a future where automation and artificial intelligence will play a larger part of our daily life.
It is thus no surprise that the inaugural exhibition was officiated by President Uhuru Kenyatta and saw more than 5,000 guests from the public and private sectors, academia and the international community visit the stands that displayed some of the best innovations in the country.
Some of the striking ideas included a system by Mugoiri Girls’ High School that uses cigarette filters to reduce harmful emissions from vehicles. Kiangunyi Secondary School students developed a homemade stethoscope out of reusable plastic while Arya Vedic Secondary students showcased a road-construction system that uses plastic waste as the key raw material.
President Kenyatta who officially accepted the request to be the YSK patron, addressed the young innovators and was visibly impressed by what he saw. The President commended the programme for being in line with the government’s own economic agenda and pledged support to expand its reach.
“This is what has underpinned our expansion of the Technical Training Institute (TTI) and vocational training facilities and this event should be rolled out nationally in the next year to have even more students participate,” he said.
Nakuru High School emerged the overall winner of the inaugural exhibition. The team took home mobile phones from Safaricom and a Sh100, 000 cheque with the teacher supporting the team also receiving a sh20, 000 cheque.
The team now prepares to fly to Ireland in January next year to compete in the British Telecom Young Scientist and Technologist Exhibitions (BT – YTSE) to compete against other national champions from across the world.