Astro-STEM Workshops Show Promise of Improvement in Girls’ Enrolment

In Kenya, although 70.4% of girls (15-19yrs) achieve some sort of primary education, only 4.5% complete secondary education (WB, 2012). Furthermore, only 3.5% of women (aged 15+) have completed tertiary education (WB, 2015). This is due to socio-economic challenges like teenage pregnancies, early marriages, FGM, poverty and lack of mentorship. Additionally, rural areas lack outreach, leadership, & mentorship programmes at the critical primary-to-secondary transition, with high dropout rates.

Thus, the Elimisha Msichana Elimisha Jamii na Astronomia (EMEJA) project is addressing these issues in rural Kenya. This is via outreach programmes, mentorship and targeted Astro-STEM workshops and scholarships opportunities.

Mentorship and Outreach Scheme

EMEJA is mentoring and supporting girls as they complete primary education. This is by visiting primary schools, engaging the community in roundtable discussions, etc. Furthermore, the scheme pairs each girl in the final year of primary education with an EMEJA mentor.

Tracking and long-term monitoring

EMEJA mentors keep track of their mentees throughout the secondary school through face-to-face or phone calls every three to four months. This scheme is particularly for EMEJA mentees transitioning between primary-to-secondary education.

Astro-STEM workshops and mentorship

The key objectives are to change misconceptions about STEM subjects among schoolgirls and facilitate girls’ early participation in sciences. Furthermore, it improves grades in STEM subjects, to increase the number of girls selecting Physics in Year 3-4 and sitting for the Physics national examination. It is also to increase enrolment of girls in STEM courses at the tertiary level. The last key objective is to develop critical infrastructure in target schools. This could be by equipping the Physics laboratories with the necessary and basic lab equipment facilities.

Computer Literacy

EMEJA is providing the target schools with computers and introducing computer studies to these students.

EMEJA tuition fee scholarship 

Lack of school fees is the crucial reason for school discontinuation in rural areas and disproportionately affects girls. Therefore, the EMEJA project is working with rural secondary schools to sponsor tuition fees to girls from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who would otherwise fail to enrol for secondary education.

EMEJA impact

So far, the project has engaged 1074 schoolgirls in primary and secondary schools, 16 secondary school teachers. The project has also taken numerous primary school teachers; and ten EMEJA Astro-STEM tutors. Furthermore, four secondary schools have received essential Physics lab equipment and two secondary schools with seven computers. One school is already offering the computer studies subject, part of the Kenya secondary education curriculum.

Questionnaires completed before and after the Astro-STEM workshops reveal that 90% of the students had a concise plan for their career choices. This is against only 20% before the programme. Additionally, the number of Physics students at a school went from 1 to 17 after the workshop and mentoring.