Female science teachers urged to mentor girls to pursue STEM courses
Girls and young women still lag behind in access to Information and Computer Technology (ICT) with fewer selecting and pursuing careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), a new study has shown.
Ironically, the number of girls completing high school and joining tertiary colleges has been rising in recent years across the country.
The report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) shows that less than 25 per cent of students in engineering, manufacturing, construction or ICT are women.
Dubbed The Race against Time for Smarter Development, the report found that only one-third of researchers in the world are women and a paltry 22 per cent of the workforce in the field of artificial intelligence are women.
The number of scientists also grew by 13.7 per cent, riding on the Covid-19 crisis.
This news comes at a time when spending on sciences grew by 19 per cent between 2014 and 2018.
Even with the rising demand for STEM courses due to the challenges occasioned by Covid-19, climate change and food and water security, the report raises alarm over the few female students taking up these courses.
Female teachers in mathematics and sciences, the report notes should play a big role in motivating their female students on the need to pursue sciences.
“By acting as positive role models for girls, female teachers are found to effectively dispel myths about innate abilities among boys and improve girls’ perceptions, interest, and self-efficacy in STEM,” the study stated.
Yet, the latest brief suggests that lower self-efficacy of female science and mathematics teachers may affect girls’ own self-efficacy in these subjects, and their pursuit of STEM careers.
“Definitely, as female teachers we have a huge role to motivate our students to pursue sciences in college and universities. In school however, girls still perform relatively poorly compared to their male counterparts,” observed Ann Mwari, a Biology and Chemistry teacher in a secondary school in Kajiado county.
Perceptions that science subjects and careers are for their male counterparts remains the biggest hindrance among girls and young women in schools, teachers noted.
Alexandrina Ngugi, a masters degree student at the School of Journalism at the University of Nairobi, who conducted research on the uptake of technical courses among students in technical training institutes in Kiambu county, observed low enrolment, high drop-out and low completing and transition rates among female students.
According to the researcher, the key factors influencing female students’ access to technical education include; affordability, staff remuneration and motivation, attitude, lack of reliable IT infrastructure and government policy.
“Technical Training Institutes (TTIs) should scale up marketing and communicating through social media and allocate adequate budget to implement communication through ICT strategy towards enhancing female students’ access to technical education,” noted Ngugi in her study.
But the negative view of sciences and technology courses among girls and young women goes beyond school and college.
“There is perceived significant structural barriers, such as gender discrimination by employers as well as training that has provided insufficient technical skills that enable them to effectively perform at the work place,” stated a study conducted in Kenya by Dr Victor Mbarika from the Southern University in the United States in collaboration with colleagues at Kenyatta University.
The study found that women were highly optimistic, embracing ICT as a practical mechanism for achieving entry into the labour market.
But even with the dire state of affairs of women in sciences, organisations have in recent years been boosting access to tech skills among students.
Global giant Microsoft and tech firm Tech4Dev have partnered to train girls and women in Kenya and other Africa countries in coding and deep tech skills— aiming at bridging the digital and technology divide among gender.
The recently launched Women Techsters Initiative targets girls and women between 16-40 years across 54 countries and is conducted virtually.
“The overall objective is to grow and support a community of tech empowered girls and women who will have equal access to decent job opportunities as well as build their ideas into tech-enabled business start-ups, ultimately aiding in economic growth,” said Kendi Nderitu, Microsoft country manager for Kenya during the recent launch.
Others feel there is an urgent need to inspire girls and young women to pursue sciences and ICT courses.
According to Laureen Omare, a data engineer supporting the Kenya Health Management Information System (KeHMIS II) Project, there is need to show the diverse facets of ICT, including the exciting career opportunities for women in the field.
“We need to showcase career options across innovative technologies, like machine learning and robotics, to inspire girls and women to see the positive impact that they can create in what’s become a truly diverse sector,” she observed.