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[DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania] Tanzania has launched an initiative to raise the performance of girls in science examinations and to encourage more girls to study science subjects at school.

The project involves holding intensive science-training camps for girls, and also training science teachers how to encourage girls to learn about science.

The initiative is part of the Science Education for Secondary Schools (SESS) project set up by the ministry of education and culture. It comes in response to concern that girls often fall behind in their performance in science tests at school, and tend not to opt for science when given a choice of subjects to study.

As part of the project, 300 girls aged 13-14 years from 28 schools took part in a five-day science camp in December. The camp, the first of its kind since the country's independence in 1961, took place at Ruvu Secondary School in the coastal region of Tanzania. Girls participated in activities such as experiments with light and building rockets, intended to illustrate that science can be both fun and accessible.

SESS co-ordinator Dorothy Mwaluko says that most girls in African countries think that science is a boys' subject; and that special teaching techniques are therefore needed to make them opt for science. It is common in Africa to find that less than a quarter of pupils in science classes are female, and this sex bias discourages other girls from joining such classes.

The SESS, which is funded mainly by foreign donors, will also provide science training for 90 teachers, with particular emphasis on how to encourage girls. In a separate initiative, the Tanzanian government will also train 60 teachers per year in the same issues. Teachers trained in science education are encouraged to train other teachers, in an attempt to cut training costs and make maximum use of resources.

The project aims to allow 1,200 girls in 28 schools to attend science camps each year, and is seeking funding to extend the programme nationwide.

The SESS project was launched in 1998 with funding from the German government. For its second phase, from 2001 to 2003, the German government has provided €1.5 million, and the Tanzanian government has given €17,000.This is the first year in which SESS has placed a special emphasis on encouraging girls in science.

Photo credit: Harvey Nelson

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