Boosting STEM education for African girls and women

young woman studies in a science laboratory
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[NAIROBI] 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.

“Science needs women [and] women need science.”

Alice Ochanda, UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa

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.

But 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.

I couldn’t help valuing this as quite interesting move since the online tracking tool would provide a chance to facilitate mentoring and tracking of the mentored students at different levels of education in Africa. For instance, so far 730 students in 80 schools have been mentored in Kenya.

Another take of mine is that this would also enable upcoming women scientists and students with interest in science to highlight the issues that continue to side-line them in these important educational fields, and to also discuss future approaches vital for effective participation of women in science.

Experts 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 the universities, , monitor the admissions to see how many of the mentored students are admitted in the different STEM courses, and are also expected to analyse the admissions for indication of an increase in enrolment.

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

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

 She adds that girls should be empowered to think for solutions for problems in their countries from scientific and engineering insights.

Ochanda notes that science clubs in schools to facilitate further mentorship and networking opportunities for the students should be implemented.

From the 2nd International day for women and girls in science meeting, it clearly emerged, to me, that to close the gender gap in science there’s greater need to inspire girls to embrace the sciences through mentorship talks, laboratory demonstrations, linkages of STEM subjects to careers and showing their relevance to society.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.