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Gambia - Kebba-Omar JagneThe Gambian education system requires students to specialize in one academic track as early as secondary school in an effort to guide students’ higher education and career 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 does take into account 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 lack of interest in the Sciences is a preconceived notion that the subject tends 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 obtain an advanced degree in science or a medical degree make it easy to generalize about the difficulty in all Sciences based disciplines.

Personally, I only experienced one year of this system before I proceeded to complete my secondary schooling abroad at an American accredited school offering the International Baccalaureate in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. When faced with the decision however, I selected the Arts because of my deep conviction (then) to study political science at the collegiate level. This desire was later realized, although by the time I graduated, I was a dual major (B.A. Political Science and Economics). It was at the post-graduate level that I ventured into Science, Technology, and Innovation studies at the University of Sussex.

It was during my collegiate career that I formulated Making Our Visions and Aspirations Reality (MOVAAR), a startup that recently piloted a Skills Formation Program (SFP) in The Gambia. It challenges youth to use technology as part of their everyday lives and requires them to create solution proposals for issues affecting their local communities at the end of its 12-week duration.

A record 40% of final proposals submitted in the SFP this year were recorded as having science at its core foundation. One particular student at the Nusrat Senior Secondary School, Alpha Bah, submitted a solution proposal formulated as the 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. This discussion inspired MOVAAR to target recruits in the Science track from across the country for its next program intake.

As such, MOVAAR in Gambia is aiming to partner with scientific research institutes and centers such as the Medical Research Council Unit (M.R.C.) to recruit coaches for its Skills Formation Program. In addition, the organization aims to identify scientists conducting research in areas that align with the students. 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, initiatives like MOVAAR’s Skills Formation Program and Project Incubator in The Gambia 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 significant step towards reducing misconceptions about the sciences.

Kebba-Omar Jagne is a business development consultant for start-ups and SMEs and is also the founder of MOVAAR. MOVAAR is a start-up that encourages youth to use science and technology as part of their everyday lives. Its Skills Formation Program (SFP) follows a project-based learning curriculum. In addition to his own start-up, he is also involved in social enterprises working to empower youth and young professionals in The Gambia and Senegal. He is a World Islamic Economic Forum young fellow and a Global Economic Symposium young fellow as well. Kebba-Omar holds an MSc in Science, Technology, and Innovation studies from the University of Sussex and a BA in Economics and Political Science from Hofstra University.