A crowd of 3,000 cheering school children filled a football stadium in Sierra Leone to learn about science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) at an event organised by a De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) graduate.
Jessica Okoro, who graduated with a BSc in Pharmaceutical and Cosmetic Science in 2016, is the founder and director of BeScience, which organises mass events called BeScience STEM Socials to inspire school pupils to study science and maths while exploding the myth that the subjects are too difficult.
Jessica on stage at the National Football Stadium, Sierra Leone
The BeScience organisation was set up by Jessica while still studying at DMU and the first events were held with the help of DMUlocal at shopping centres and libraries.
Now Jessica’s organisation has made its first forays into Africa with the government-backed national conference for school children, held in May in the National Stadium in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown.
Jessica said: “The BeScience STEM socials have always been about talking to the masses to get them to feel empowered and take ownership of their education. We don’t want pupils to wait to be leaders. We tell them they are leaders now.
“It was an honour and a privilege to talk to these thousands of young people in Freetown and inspire them to be those leaders. I was absolutely blown away by the reaction.”
A section of the 3,000-plus crowd cheers on Jessica
Jessica was invited to take part by the Sierra Leone government’s Director of Public and Private Partnerships after seeing her delivering a Ted Talk online and looking into the BeScience project.
Jessica said: “The vision of the STEMsocials has been to produce something unconventional and totally different to a school lesson. We want them to be like being at a concert or a massive fun festival. STEMsocials present science and maths in a fresh and unusual way.
“With it being a national event in Freetown it had to be big. We were aiming for 2,000 but the numbers kept rising and the National Stadium was the biggest venue we could find. It was nerve-wracking but the event turned out to be phenomenal.”
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Jessica has dyslexia and struggled with STEM subjects when she was younger. She said the children were inspired to hear her story
Jessica was not the only person to take to the stage. Young innovators and inventors from the African nation also addressed the crowd and there was a closing keynote speech from the nation’s Vice-President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh.
The new Sierra Leone government has launched the Free Quality Education programme to change the fortunes of their nation.
Jessica high fives some of the students at STEMsocial
The government has committed a massive 21 per cent of the national budget to the education sector and establish a Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation to promote the benefits of STEM to research, business and new prosperity.
His Excellency the President Julius Maada Bio has also pledged to offer scholarships to girls taking up STEM courses at university.
Jessica’s BeScience programme has five full-time staff and more than 1,000 volunteers. Her events have been attended by more than 10,000 school pupils in the UK so far.
Jessica has now set up an innovation fund which aims to raise one million pounds to help poorer pupils, girls and the disabled to take part in STEM projects and enter STEM competitions as well as provide equipment such as laptops and 3D printers.
She is also about to launch STEMsocial Minis, which will be held in UK school assemblies. Jessica is also looking at holding other mass events in West Africa.
Jessica added: “If you really want renowned leaders to push the economy and get involved in politics they need a quality education but it costs money.”
Posted on Tuesday 4th June 2019