Weaning girls into science subjects…and winning

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020 00:00 |
Linah Anyango having a learning moment with her students. Photo/PD/Courtesy

LINAH ANYANGO, 35, a biology and chemistry teacher at Changamwe Secondary School in Mombasa has made it to the top 50 shortlisted candidates for the Global Teacher Prize after 12,000 nominations from more than140 countries.

Jasmine Atieno @sparklesmine

For  a long time, there has been an unconscious bias that boys and men have a natural affinity for sciences, which has resulted to the field being highly male-dominated.

So, when Linah Anyango, a teacher at Changamwe Secondary School, Mombasa set up a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) club, she wanted to change this stereotype.

Linah, a Biology and Chemistry teacher says these were her favourite subjects in secondary school and she even managed to score A in both of them in her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE).

“When I was admitted to study a Bachelors degree in Education at Maseno University, I decided if I am to be a teacher, a careeer I never really wanted to pursue, then I would teach my favourite subjects,”she says.

Her aim when she founded STEM Club was to inspire girls to take up STEM courses and pursue these careers after high school.

“Considering we are currently in a knowledge economy, where what you know sets you ahead of the rest, I felt that introducing them to STEM through mentors and fairs would inspire them to consider STEM careers in the future.

Unfortunately, most of the students in my school are from humble backgrounds and live in the neighbouring Bangladesh slums, Mombasa, where access to technology is beyond reach.

I therefore, took advantage of my networks with women in various STEM fields such as Safaricom’s Women in Technology and Pwani Tecknowgals who would train them the basics in technology such as coding, app and web development for free,” reveals Linah who has been part of Microsoft Educator Community since September 2017.

Linah and her students receiving a certificate after emerging the best team during GistPwani STEM competition at American Space, Mombasa. Photo/Courtesy

“My principal sponsored me to attend an ICT induction training organised by Jielimishe, a project of I Choose Life-Africa.

In the training, I was introduced into the Microsoft Educator Community and the many free online courses available in that platform.

I used the platform and studied over 80 online courses on Education Technology.

I then sat for a Microsoft Certified Educator examination and became certified,” she says. 

Having become a Microsoft certified educator, she started training her fellow teachers both within her school as well as in the neighbouring ones within Mombasa on how to teach using technology. 

Linah says Kenyan students have great and innovative ideas. However, they lack mentoring platforms and enough space to help them incubate those ideas.

Memorable moment

But thanks to her close collaboration with Concordia University, Canada, through their Epearl and Space team ESL, Changamwe Secondary School students have been exposed to the latest technology tools in education, despite not having a computer science teacher.

Last year, her girls emerged the best nationally qualifying to attend Eskom fair in South Africa.

“This was my most memorable moment! We did not expect to do better than the national schools present at the fair.

After the win, my girls got convinced more than ever that no one is limited,” she beams. 

Linah Anyango has been shortlisted for a prestigious Sh100m teachers prize. Photo/Courtesy

It is these efforts that saw her nominated for the most revered teachers’ award in the world - The Global Teachers Prize, a Sh100 million award, presented annually to an exceptional teacher, who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession.

In fact, when emails from Varkey Foundation, which established the prize six years ago started streaming in confirming she had been nominated to apply for the awards, she did not think she stood a chance. But she still took the opportunity and shared her story.

“My involvement, with photo evidences of how I engage students and members of the community counted a lot.

These projects including a mangrove project, is what earned me the nomination,” she explains.

Linah is a member of the BigShip Organisation, a Community Based Organisation in Mombasa founded by Bosco Juma, whose main objective is to restore the mangrove ecosystem along Tudor creek.

Mangrove forests along the Kenyan coast are faced with the danger of extinction since there has been a lot of logging and no re-forestation.

“Considering the critical role the mangrove forests play to protect the coastal line and also absorb the Carbon (iv) Oxide, which has been a major cause of global warming, I saw there should be a deliberate effort to sensitise the community on the importance of protecting this natural ecosystem,” she says.

Through Adopt-A-Site campaign, her students have planted over 2,500 mangrove trees at Tudor creek. This initiative has helped the students appreciate the effects of global warming and how they can mitigate its effects. 

For the love of community

If she wins, she says she will fulfil her greatest desire to do good for the places which need it the most in the education sector, the mother of them being Changamwe Secondary School.

“My desire should I win the award, is to buy enough beds and mattresses for the hostel to ensure girls are able to use the boarding facility, which will cushion their studies from being interrupted.

In addition to this, most Kenyan primary schools do not have science laboratories yet they start learning science from Grade Four.

I would wish to set up mobile laboratories, which will be visiting schools on a schedule. This will help spark their interest in STEM subjects early in life,” she says.

 Her nomination puts Kenya on the global maps once again. Last year’s prize was won by a Kenyan, Peter Tabichi.

“Out of the 140 countries that applied, only 38 countries globally made it to this shortlist and I am glad Kenya is among them,” she says.

However, all this comes as a pleasant surprise for Linah who didn’t want to become a teacher.

“My dream was in the field of medicine, but unfortunately I did not get enough cluster points to pursue the career of my dreams,” she says. 

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