Science & Technology

13-year-old who dropped out of school to learn robotics gradually changing the face of STEM

Jonathan Kennedy Sowah says wherever he goes, he’s always looking for a problem to solve. His latest mission is to help transform Ghana’s approach to STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — and he believes he’s found a solution.

His company, InovTech STEM Center, travels to schools across Ghana to teach students and teachers the ins and outs of STEM through robotics education.

“Computing [and coding] should be like a basic language — every child should learn,” Sowah, 23, says.

InovTech STEM Center offers lessons in web design, app development and 3D modelling and printing, among other skills. Workshops empower students to flex their creative muscles and find ways to apply the lessons they learn in the classroom to the tech field.“Now they know the relevance of what they’re learning in class. They know that if I’m able to learn geometry, this is what I can do with a robot,” he says.Digital skills are critical to learn as there is a growing demand for tech jobs throughout sub-Saharan Africa. A 2019 study by the International Finance Corporation estimated about 230 million jobs across the region will require digital skills by 2030 — and more than nine million of those jobs will be in Ghana.

Like many entrepreneurs, Sowah’s path to success was a bit unconventional. The Ghanaian was born and raised in the coastal township of Teshie, close to the capital Accra, where he spent most days working at his grandmother’s provisions store.

He says he was interested in information technology (IT) from a young age, but he grew frustrated with how it was being taught in school. So, at 13 years old, Sowah decided to drop out and get a job at a local internet café.“I knew I could do so much better, and I was so restricted,” he recalls.

Once he had free access to the internet, he says he spent his spare time surfing the web to watch robotics tutorials, adding “I was always researching, I was learning new things.”

The self-taught computer scientist eventually went back to school and enrolled in Labone Senior High School with dreams of becoming a neurosurgeon. But once again, Sowah says he was disappointed with a lack of emphasis on IT. This time, he took it upon himself to start a creative technology club called CREATECH.

“We started learning. We started teaching ourselves as well. And then we started going for robotics competitions,” Sowah says.

He credits his geography teacher for pushing him to turn CREATECH into the InovTech STEM Center. Today, the company is reaching students and teachers throughout the country. It works closely with the Ghana Educational Service to buy robotics kits and work with schools. But Sowah tells CNN many rural areas still face significant challenges to education.

“You go to these places, and they don’t have computers,” he says. “It’s up to us to learn it as the privileged ones and then go and teach the underprivileged ones.”

In recent years, Ghana’s Ministry of Education began implementing new policies to transform the country into a “learning nation,” including an Education Strategic Plan that outlines ways to improve the quality of teaching STEM across all educational levels by 2030.

The ministry says it wants to achieve an enrollment ratio of 60:40 in favor of STEM subjects over humanities.

In January, it also announced plans to build 20 STEM centers and 10 STEM senior high schools across the country. It says the projects are in various stages of completion and some are expected to be operational this year.

In addition to improving access to resources, Sowah is determined to help close the gender gap in STEM.


Ray Charles Marfo

Digital Marketing and Brands Expert

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