Increasing girls’ interest and participation in science education and innovation

How FAWE Uganda is working with schools to improve the performance and the participation of girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects at the secondary school level.

April 13, 2022 by David Omoding, FAWE Uganda
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3 minutes read
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A girl in her classroom at Makamba Primary School in Uganda. Credit: GPE/Livia Barton
A girl in her classroom at Makamba Primary School in Uganda.
Credit: GPE/Livia Barton

In 2006, President Museveni of Uganda declared the core science subjects of physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics compulsory for all lower secondary level students. This aimed at increasing science literacy as the number of students opting for science subjects had greatly declined.

Despite the declaration, the number of students pursuing science subjects at upper secondary level continued to dwindle. According to the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) Report 2009, “Students who scored grades A, B or C in the core science subjects were less than 10% of the total number of students sitting for exams in these subjects for the period 2005-2008. Many students scored grade O, earning only one point, or failed completely.”

The minister of education and sports, Janet Museveni, also decried the low number of students, especially girls, doing sciences at the Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education level.

To address the above, FAWE Uganda through the FAWE Regional Secretariat partnered with Dubai Cares to design an intervention complementing the government’s effort to improve the performance and the participation of learners, especially girls, in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The project aimed at increasing and improving girl’s interest, participation and performance in STEM subjects at secondary school level.

A number of approaches were used to implement the project, including capacity building of school administrators, teachers and boards of governors in gender-responsive pedagogy to create a conducive teaching and learning environment in schools, working with STEM role models to inspire, motivate and mentor girls in STEM.

As a result, there was recorded improved participation and performance of girls in STEM subjects. For example, in Tororo Girls School, 126 girls passed with a 1st grade in 2017 and 165 in 2018. Sebei College Tegeres, Biiso War Memorial Secondary School (S.S.), Duhaga S.S. and Kangole Girls School all registered improved performance.

UNEB also recorded more girls passing their O-level science exams than boys for the three-year period.

Overall performance improvement in partner schools

The popular notion that STEM subjects are better suited to boys was dismissed in Uganda schools. This effect spilled over to other academic areas of as well. At Biiso War Memorial, the only school in the district offering A-level sciences, school enrollment of girls increased from 450 in 2017 to 734 in 2019.

The shift in attitude toward science subjects was helped by the clubs set up in schools to be centers of motivation and encouragement. The clubs had an initial enrollment plan of 150 girls, but because of their popularity, they ended up getting as many as 280 girls per club. By the end of the program, more than 6,300 students were actively participating in the club activities.

“Because I did not attain the pass mark in sciences, my parents felt that I shouldn’t take those subjects. But I joined the STEM Club which helped me become more confident until I excelled in sciences to the level that the school offered me bursaries. I am happy because my parents pay my school fees, and I am consulted by the students who used to score better than me in my class!”

Ivan Obek, Kitante Hill High School

The school clubs became hubs for new ideas, with approximately 700 innovations developed at the school level aimed at solving community problems using locally available materials; at least 360 projects were presented for competition at the regional level and 90 at the national level.

“I joined the STEM Club when I was in Senior 2 after I saw students who made refrigerators and solar panels on their own. This decision brought more benefits into my life. I can reason ably in math discussions, and I work with teams to realize science projects. I wasn’t a public speaker but now I can express myself starting at the school assemblies when presenting science projects. I have become a leader; I am the current Speaker in my school.”

Taremwa Martha, Bweranyangi Girls School

The STEM program was a tremendous success as it built capacity of 80 secondary schools to increase girls’ interest, participation, and performance in STEM through the adoption of gender-responsive approaches in learning and teaching processes.

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Gender equality, ICT
Sub-Saharan Africa: Uganda

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