Online tool to track African women in STEM

Copyright: Panos

By SciDev.Net – Sam Otieno

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.

These emerged as some of the vital issues during the 2nd International day for Women and Girls in Science forum held in Nairobi, Kenya in 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.

“Science needs women [and] women need science.”
Alice Ochanda, UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa

A 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.

The tool aims to facilitate mentoring and tracking of mentored students at different levels of education in Africa. So far, 730 students in 80 schools have been mentored in Kenya.

Surely this will also enable upcoming women scientists, and students with interest in science, to highlight the issues that continue to sideline them in these important educational fields, and to also discuss future approaches vital for effective participation of women in science.

Experts speaking at the forum 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 universities, monitor admissions to see how many of the mentored students are admitted in the different STEM courses offered. They are also expected to analyse admissions figures for an indication of any increase in enrolment.

According to Alice Ochanda, programme specialist for gender and science at the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa, the tool could boost visibility and recognition, serving as a voice for what is happening to women in science 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 should be implemented in schools, to facilitate further mentorship and networking opportunities for the students.

One message emerging clearly from the meeting was 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.