Varaidzo Mureriwa - Stem, in Its Very Essence, Is Creativity

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Dec 15, 2015
by Heather Jaber
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Varaidzo Mureriwa - Stem, in Its Very Essence, Is Creativity

Managing director of the P-STEM Foundation, discusses the potential for STEM solutions to tackle South Africa’s youth unemployment Vari Mureriwa, managing director of the P-STEM Foundation, South Africa

What are 21st century skills? Do they vary in form and context? How can we define one of the most pressing issues for young people today? For Varaidzo Mureriwa, managing director of the P-STEM Foundation, it’s about sustainability. 

Mureriwa, participant of Untapped Talent: Can Better Testing and Data Accelerate Creativity in Learning and Societies?, worked as a technology consultant before becoming a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education advocate. The P-STEM Foundation is South Africa’s only non-governmental STEM advocacy organization.

“What quickly became evident to me and some my colleagues is that while South Africa has a big youth population, it’s unable to translate that youth into viable, sustainable careers,” she says.

The case for youth unemployment in the region is particularly devastating—unofficial numbers put youth unemployment at about 40%. Of that percentage, says Mureriwa, 70% are between the ages of 14 and 35. Having 21st century skills is particularly relevant in the South African context, she explains. 

Mureriwa quotes former US Secretary of Education Richard Riley when discussing 21st century skills and the context of the youth in South Africa in particular: “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist.”

“[It means] having skills or teaching our students skills today that will enable them to have sustainable careers for the duration of their careers,” said the participant. “And why that’s necessary today versus 50 years ago is the rate and pace at which life is changing.”

To keep up with this rapidly changing world, creativity is vital to a sustainable career, believes Mureriwa. While creativity is not often conflated with the sciences and math, it is a major component of STEM, says Mureriwa.

“If you look at STEM in itself, in its very essence is creativity,” she says. “Someone had to be creative to come up with that new technology. Someone had to understand a mathematical concept and be able to translate that into modern world reality.” 

To do that today, we need foun­dational knowledge, said Mureriwa. In South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa in particular, it is important to target attitudes towards math and sciences. A lack of access to STEM resources or education centers also contributes to these attitudes.

“The dialogue needs to shift in order to be more encompassing,” she says, “but at the same time the innovations need to be able to meet people where they are.” 

“What’s really great about being involved in this 21st century is a lot of the traditional barriers have been removed,” she enthuses, highlighting the opportunities that now exist for closing these gaps and shifting attitudes. Connecting students with STEM role models and running STEM community days in rural communities are some of the methods P-STEM have effectively used, shifting from the idea that schools and governments are the center of education to more acknowledging the community’s role.

For the STEM education advocate, the session in Salzburg is also challenging conventional thinking about creativity.

“What I’m really loving is thinking about creativity from an assessment perspective and breaking down some of the assumptions I’ve had. I’ve always assumed trying to assess for creativity curbs creativity…then I started questioning my assumptions.”


Vari Mureriwa was a participant of the Salzburg Global program Untapped Talent: Can Better Testing and Data Accelerate Creativity in Learning and Societies? The session was hosted in collaboration with the Educational Testing Service (ETS)the National Science Foundation, and the Inter-American Development Bank, and in association with the Royal Society of Arts (RSA). More information on the session can be found here: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/558.