Unlocking the Potential of Girls in SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING and MATHEMATICS

    Online tool to track Girls Perfomrance in STEM

    Source: scidev.net

    Mentoring girls and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is, no doubt, viewed as one of the most central pillars for equitable and secure sustainable future of Africa.

    But experts, governments and several institutions have been grappling with how best this can be executed to achieve the desired goals fully, and consistently.

    These emerged as some of the vital issues during the 2nd International day for Women and Girls in Science forum  held in Nairobi, Kenya, this month (11 February), which was organised by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation in Kenya and the African Women in Science and Engineering.

    “Science needs women [and] women need science.”
    Alice Ochanda, UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa

    A UNESCO-Government of Kenya online tool for mentoring young girls and women in STEM, which was launched at the event, was a shot in the arm for STEM education in Africa.

    The tool aims to facilitate mentoring and tracking of mentored students at different levels of education in Africa. So far, 730 students in 80 schools have been mentored in Kenya.

    Surely this will also enable upcoming women scientists, and students with interest in science, to highlight the issues that continue to sideline them in these important educational fields, and to also discuss future approaches vital for effective participation of women in science.

    Experts speaking at the forum emphasised that there is a need for the participating schools to track the performance of those students who have been mentored.

    The mentors, some of whom are women scientists, engineers and lecturers in universities, monitor admissions to see how many of the mentored students are admitted in the different STEM courses offered. They are also expected to analyse admissions figures for an indication of any increase in enrolment.

    According to Alice Ochanda, programme specialist for gender and science at the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa, the tool could boost visibility and recognition, serving as a voice for what is happening to women in science in Africa.

    “Science needs women [and] women need science,” says Ochanda. ”The involvement of women in science will facilitate the development of the continent.”

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    Technological gaps will keep on growing between developed and developing countries as long as new approaches are not adopted in the teaching of STEM in primary and secondary schools. Most Kenyan secondary schools laboratories are ill- equipped for students to carry out experiments; thus they perceive sciences as dull, theoretical and abstract. They fail to relate what they are taught with its application in the real world. Science will remain an abstract pursuit to learners so long as they are not exposed to its real application in their daily lives. Technology will never be appropriate if students are not afforded means of contextualizing it –this should earnestly begin in our laboratories.

    - Prof. Shem Wandiga, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Nairobi

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