The literature concurs with the general view that science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education is necessary to facilitate economic development, international competitiveness and job creation. However, the literature does not specify the particular benefits of STEM education in developing countries since the consensus is that STEM education is generally lacking in these countries. Moreover, the gender gap in STEM education is prevalent in some developed and most developing countries (UNESCO, 2017:20). However, STEM has
been useful for enhancing teacher training in developing countries, stimulating innovative approaches for secondary education and aligning the demand and supply of skills (Burnett & Jayaram, 2012; Hooker, 2017). In Rwanda, engineering education has provided skilled personnel for industry and solutions for local development problems (Lwakabamba & Lujara, 2003). In addition, collaboration with Swedish universities has boosted the research capacity at the University of Rwanda (Tvedten, Byabagambi, Lindström, & Tedre, 2018).
The literature on STEM education in developing countries focuses on the challenges many young people face with regard to access to secondary and tertiary education in general as well as the gender gaps in STEM education. It, therefore, proposes strategies for overcoming these difficulties. Studies on STEM education usually adopt a regional focus such as Africa or Asia and therefore the reports amalgamate data from middle-income and low-income countries. There is some literature on the benefits of science and technology (as a sector) on economic growth or combating diseases such as HIV or malaria. The literature does not discuss the benefits of STEM education beyond the general view that STEM facilitates economic growth and competitiveness. Given that the literature does not address the query directly, the following approach is used in this rapid literature review: literature from developed and developing countries is used to discuss the rationale for STEM education and the key trends in this field. Statistics relating to the gender gap are presented and the impact of some programmes which aim to improve female participation in STEM in developing countries is discussed. Since much of the literature on STEM education mention teacher training, this is discussed as a benefit of STEM education, together with meeting the demand for skills and innovations for secondary education. Case studies of STEM education projects in Rwanda, a low-income country which has prioritised education and undertaken several initiatives to improve STEM education, are used to highlight the benefits of STEM education.
The main findings are as follows:
- The rationale for investment in STEM education relates mainly to its association with improved economic outcomes (African American Institute, 2015; Williams, 2011).
- Unemployment in the Middle East and Latin America is linked to the inadequate supply of skills required by employers (Burnett & Jayaram, 2012).
- The 21st-century job market requires a new set of skills, and there is more emphasis on technology skills (Voogt & Roblin, 2012).
- Across the world, only 30% of female students pursue STEM-related higher education studies (UNESCO, 2017).
- UNESCO (2017) regards to access to STEM education for girls as a human right.
- Science Technology and Mathematics clinics in Ghana have provided training to over 40,000 girls from 1986-2010 (Bermingham & Engmann, 2012).
- Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) education is recommended for bridging the demand and supply of skills in Africa and Asia (Burnett & Jayaram, 2012).
- TVET is necessary at the secondary school level to prepare students for self-employment and entrepreneurship (Likly et al., 2018).
- Apprenticeships and continuing education can be used to provide STEM-related training to informal sector workers (Lwakabamba & Lujara, 2003).
- STEM education should address local development needs (Sohoni, 2012).
- STEM education can contribute to voluntary, informal and domestic work by enhancing knowledge of hygiene, health, and agriculture (Likly et al., 2018).