11th February marks the day of women and girls in science. Its purpose is to encourage more women to pursue STEM related courses because the future is technology and requires everyone’s participation. This day reminds me of my days back in campus when I had just joined Daystar University. Before I even joined campus, I always knew I was going to pursue a science related course. So I had a choice between Applied Computer Science and Management Information Systems. I enrolled for the computer science class which to my surprise had about fifteen students and we were only two ladies. It felt a bit discouraging and I kept wondering if I joined the wrong course. But no, that was and is still the situation in many institutions in Kenya.
According to UNESCO data (2014 – 2016), only around 30 per cent of all female students select STEM-related fields in higher education. Globally, female students’ enrollment is particularly low in ICT (3 per cent), natural science, mathematics and statistics (5 per cent) and in engineering, manufacturing and construction (8 per cent)
According to a study conducted in 14 countries, the probability for female students of graduating with a Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree and Doctor’s degree in science-related field are 18%, 8% and 2% respectively, while the percentages of male students are 37%, 18% and 6%.
The gender gap is so huge in STEM yet the challenges we are facing now require innovative solutions powered by Science and Technology. Unlike before, Computer lessons have now been introduced in primary schools making it easier for either boys or girls to develop an earlier desire for pursuing technology-related courses. While it is known that admission into university in Kenya is based on marks scored in high school and the cut-off points, it is also possible that there are other factors influencing the choice of engineering and applied science courses among female high school students. The situation is even worse for engineering courses where enrollment continues to decline and even those who enroll continue to dropout before completion of the course.
There have been a couple of interventions to try and bridge the gap through different programs like the ones highlighted below;
Safaricom’s Women In Technology Academy
The Safaricom’s Women In Technology Academy supports women to advance their careers in tech and advocates for more girls choosing careers in STEM. They also have an internship program that is targeted to female candidates only that includes a combination of job & functional exposure, work assignments and project assignments.
UNESCO Nairobi’s Scientific Camps of Excellence
There is also the UNESCO Nairobi’s Scientific Camps of Excellence which aim to increase female enrollment into engineering and applied science courses and taking up science-based professions. This approach to mentoring girls in STEM was introduce in Kenya in 2014 with the first camp being organized on 10 November to mark the World Science Day and to give more focus to the need for more female involvement in the STEM courses and careers.
Women In Tech Africa- Kenya Chapter
Lastly is the Women In Tech Africa Kenya chapter headed by Ms. Sylvia Mukasa. Women In Tech Africa supports African growth through technology by empowering Women and girls in science across Africa to Positively Support their Communities. Women in Tech Africa has membership of women in over 30 countries in Africa and they hold training and mentorship sessions for women with the aim of Creating today’s female leaders and role Models for tomorrow’s Women.
Standard Chartered Women in Technology Incubator Kenya Program
The Standard Chartered Women in Technology Incubator Kenya is Africa’s leading women in tech incubator, aligning with calls for more diversity in technology and for more opportunities for women to develop entrepreneurial and leadership excellence. The program is an initiative of Standard Chartered in partnership with Strathmore University @iBizAfrica incubator.
Other organization like Akirachix and Andela Kenya also support women and girls in science through their programmes.
The future of jobs is in the field of science and technology, with 90 per cent of future jobs requiring ICT skills, and some 2 million new jobs expected in the computer, mathematical, architecture and engineering fields.
For a future that benefits women equally as men, now is the time to smash the gender bias and enable girls and women to access and excel in science.