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Fresh plan to make science subjects more attractive

A new plan has been developed to improve girls’ performance in sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics.

It will be rolled out early next year to improve learning outcomes in these key subjects, also known as STEM.

This is in response to challenges identified in teaching the subjects in most schools, which include lack of interest among girls in ‘hard sciences’, leading to poor performance. In the STEM Improvement Programme, attention will be on semi-arid areas and slums. Turkana, Samburu, Marsabit, Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi, Kwale and Tana River counties will be the first beneficiaries. The model, proposed by a consortium of education stakeholders, has been discussed with the Ministry of Education and other players. The new system is anchored on three pillars: learners, teachers and the school environment. First, the learner, with a focus on motivation, engagement in the subjects, confidence and achievement. Secondly, the teacher, with a focus on improved conceptual knowledge in STEM.

Third is school improvement, which focuses on creating positive STEM ecosystem in facilitating good practices among teachers and in enhancing retention and continuity of female students in STEM subjects. The initiative proposes to complement existing STEM strategies in schools to enable students be reflective learners, able to accrue the desired outcomes, transition through STEM subjects and where possible transition into STEM related careers.

The key emphasis will be on ensuring STEM teaching and learning is student-centred.

“Through project based learning, learners will develop their critical thinking skills and collaborate in teamwork building which are the desired 21st century skills needed in the future STEM careers,” says Margaret Kamau, the deputy project director of Wasichana Wetu Wafaulu (WWW).

“Other strategies specific for motivating female learners and improving their self-perception will include use of role models and vibrant career guidance.”

The initiative will contribute to the new curriculum’s need for different components of the education system to be coherent in reinforcing each other in achieving better outcomes. It will be funded by UKAid under the Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC) and will be implemented by consortium of partners, led by Education Development Trust under WWW. Other partners are Concern Worldwide, AMURT, Pastoralist Girls Initiative and Kesho Kenya.

The project will help schools review their STEM performance from the Kenya National Examinations Council’s KCPE/KCSE examination school based reports. Qualitative surveys in the schools will also review the STEM school culture and practices. If successful, the project will also support schools with dire infrastructure needs. This will be identified by the school and project staff. Teachers, while admitting that negative perception towards technical subjects was a cause for concern, are optimistic the new approach will pay off.

“As a mathematics and science teacher, girls always tell me the subjects are hard, which is not the case. Teachers should be trained and empowered to teach these subjects in a way that makes them attractive. We must find ways of changing this attitude,” says Shadrack Khaemba of MOC Primary School in Kibera slums, Nairobi.