A new project has been unveiled to improve girls’ performance in sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The initiative supported by ‘Young African Women Initiatives’ (YAWI) targets to improve learning outcomes in over 1,000 Form One and Form Two students from informal settlements in Nakuru County in these key subjects, also known as STEM.
According to YAWI Programs Officer Ms Karen Wairimu this is in response to challenges identified in teaching the subjects in most schools, which include a lack of interest among girls in ‘hard sciences’, leading to poor performance.
In the STEM Improvement Programme, attention will be on Free Area, Kiratina, Bondeni, Kivumbini, Kwa Ronda and Flamingo estates.
Ms Wairimu said the program was focusing on increased sensitization on the importance of STEM to parents who, to a large extent, influence their children’s career choices and motivation while reducing negative social perceptions and device strategies to increase female role models and mentorship, especially in informal settlements.
She stated: “It is vital that we engage with girls at lower secondary school levels to raise the visibility of STEM subjects as a potential career trajectory.”
“We are complementing existing STEM strategies in schools to enable students to be reflective learners, able to accrue the desired outcomes, transition through STEM subjects and where possible transition into STEM-related careers,” she added
Ms Wairimu indicated that they had brought on board sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics teachers to help learners develop their critical thinking skills and collaborate in teamwork building which are the desired 21st century skills needed in future STEM careers.
“Other strategies specific for motivating female learners and improving their self-perception include use of role models and vibrant career guidance.”
While admitting that negative perception by girls towards technical subjects was a cause for concern, Ms Wairimu was optimistic the new approach will pay off.
The Programs Officer indicated that there is a need to scale up interventions aimed at entrenching the interest in STEM-oriented subjects at the primary and secondary levels of learning and intensify strategies aimed at bridging the gender disparity in the enrolment and completion of STEM-related courses at the tertiary level.
According to a recent report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), only 35 percent of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students in higher education globally are women.
Ms Wairimu observed that this gaping gender gap was especially concerning against the background that STEM careers are considered the jobs of the future.
The UNESCO report titled “Cracking the Code: Girls’ and Women’s education in STEM” notes that a strong gender imbalance exists globally regarding women’s representation in STEM fields, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to the Programs Officer, many students are not conversant with the vast array of careers and hobbies that exist in science. Additionally, many students she added do not believe they can perform well in science and carry the perception that it is too difficult, hence the need for the program to debunk such beliefs.
She added: “We are aware of the importance of the role we play in championing STEM by supporting education and mentorship programmes. Teachers play a key role in encouraging or discouraging students from taking up science subjects in secondary school,”
Faith Wanjiku, a mathematics teacher noted that elimination of stereotypes and prejudices about the ‘masculinity’ of Stem would be a step in the right direction.
The program she observed was an excellent example of a platform that showcases innovation and develops interests and talents in Stem.
“Stem drives economic growth. We must redouble our efforts to boost the number of girls and women in Stem. By harnessing their skills and smart ideas, we will realize important progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a more peaceful, just and prosperous world,” she noted.
Despite many gender-responsive policies at the national and institutional levels, Ms Wanjiku pointed out that women are still under-represented in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines.
“As a mathematics teacher, girls always tell me the subjects are hard, which is not the case. Teachers should be trained and empowered to teach these subjects in a way that makes them attractive. We must find ways of changing this attitude,” said Wanjiku
To encourage more women to take up STEM courses, she said institutions should entrench role modeling and mentoring from primary to the university level.
“To bust the stereotype of STEM as difficult, boring courses, there is a need to engage young learners in a fun way, to help build their interest in the subjects from an early age. Continuous training of women teachers of STEM will also help build capacity for qualified females to deliver content professionally and competently,” added Ms Wanjiku
She observed that in order to achieve the intended middle-level economy Kenya must take urgent and decisive action to encourage the uptake of STEM subjects from an early age by motivating and mentoring students in their endeavor to pursue STEM-related careers.