Jonathan Kennedy Sowah dropped out of school to learn robotics. He is now teaching STEM in Ghana

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

“Computing [and coding] it should be like a basic language: every child should learn it,” says 23-year-old Sowah.

InovTech STEM Center offers lessons in web design, app development, and 3D modeling and printing, among other skills. The workshops allow students to flex their creative muscles and find ways to apply the lessons they learn in the classroom to the field of technology.

“Now they know the relevance of what they are learning in class. They know that if I can learn geometry, this is what I can do with a robot,” she says.

Digital skills are critical to learning as there is a growing demand for tech jobs across sub-Saharan Africa. A 2019 study by the International Finance Corporation estimated that around 230 million jobs across the region will require digital skills by 2030, and more than nine million of those jobs will be in Ghana.

a defining moment

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

He says that he was interested in information technology (IT) from a young age, but became frustrated with the way it was taught in school. So, at age 13, Sowah decided to drop out of school and get a job at a local internet cafe.

“I knew I could do much better and I was very restricted,” he recalls.

InovTech STEM Centers bring robotics kits to schools in disadvantaged communities.

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

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

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“We started learning. We also started teaching ourselves. And then we started participating in robotics competitions,” says Sowah.

He credits his geography teacher for pushing him to turn CREATECH into the InovTech STEM Center. Today, the company is reaching students and teachers across the country. It works closely with the Ghana Education Service to purchase robotics kits and work with schools. But Sowah tells CNN that 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 like the privileged ones and then go and teach the disadvantaged.”

A “Nation of Learning”

In recent years, the Ghanaian Ministry of Education has begun implementing new policies to transform the country into a “learning nation,” including an Education Strategic Plan that outlines ways to improve the quality of STEM teaching at all levels. education by 2030. The ministry says it wants to achieve an enrollment ratio of 60:40 in favor of STEM subjects over the humanities.
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In January, it also announced plans to build 20 STEM centers and 10 STEM high schools across the country. He says the projects are in various stages of completion with some expected to be operational this year.

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

According to UNICEF, girls are consistently underrepresented among the top performers in STEM subjects and lack digital skills compared to their male peers. It found that only 7% of girls in Ghana have digital skills compared to 16% of boys.
Students gather outside the Teshie Anglican School in Ghana after learning to code robots.

InovTech STEM Center empowers young women through its “STEM for Her” outreach program and also launched a “Girl Power Workshop” last year.

“We wanted to introduce girls to the exciting part of robotics, to meet people who are already in the industry doing robotics or technology-related careers, and then mentor them, teach them, and then mentor them,” Sowah says, adding he believes the government can do more to support the advancement of STEM.

Sowah calls on the government and other international organizations to invest in STEM in Africa, particularly Ghana, “because what we are doing, we are doing for our country.”

“My dream for Ghana is a Ghana [where] each student [has] access to education…no matter where they are,” he adds. “A Ghana [where] Every teacher is an expert… [and] You have a right to the resources to train, inspire, and empower students.”

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