The untapped potential of fully trained and credentialed women coupled with fear of the unknown impacted on girls is a lost opportunity not only for girls but for the countries development plans too.
“There is urgent need to look into policies that addresses and supports adoption of certain work related conditions to suit girl’s needs for them to be able to build their careers in STEM,” Dr. Monika MacDevette, the Chief of the Scientific Assessment Branch in the Division of Early Warning and Assessment at United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) said at a symposium in Nairobi.
He observed that the society must begin to push for the girls to pursue careers of their choice in STEM as opposed to discouraging them.
MacDevette noted that gender equality should be seen as a way to promoting scientific and technological excellence rather than just improving opportunities for women.
“The girls who develop interest in mathematics and other STEM subjects should be encouraged both at home and at school,” she added.
In Kenya women’s population represents 51 percent of the overall population yet there is relative scarcity number of female wanting to pursue a career in STEM.
According to UNESCO, less than 12 percent female students are admitted into engineering and applied science courses in universities in the country. This translates to eight percent in female in engineering workforce in Kenya after leaving university.
“Overall lower rates of enrolment and high numbers of dropouts during the course of programs only worsens the situation,” the Head of Biological Sciences at the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) Dr. Edwardina Otieno said.
She observed that although the participation of women in higher education has increased, they are still under represented in STEM hence posing danger for the future economic posterity and prosperity of the country.
“Plans to achieve development plans such as vision 2030 are at a risk if all genders are not engaged fully,” she said.
According to Africa Regional Director for UN Women Diana Ofwona, STEM education should be introduced to girls in their formative years to help them develop and acquire the foundational principles of sciences.
She noted that boys perform well in STEM related courses due to an early orientation bestowed on them at an early age, an example that could be copied to benefit girls too.
“If we do not push for the parity in STEM, then we are shooting ourselves in the foot,” Ofwona noted.
She cautioned women to tread carefully in the fight for affirmative action adding that the movement is only meant to correct the existing anomaly in the society.
“Affirmative action is not meant to disfranchise anyone but simply to give all genders an equal opportunity,” he noted.
Dr. June Mudete, a Senior Lecturer of Medical Engineering at Kenyatta University blamed poor preparation, lack of encouragement as well as poorly equipped laboratories as a major obstacle for girls to major in STEM.
She observed that it’s the responsibility of parents to accept their daughter choice of STEM courses as a way of encouraging them to like the courses.
In 2012, the number of registered engineers in Kenya was 1.341 whereby 1,298 (96 percent) were men and 43 (3.2 percent) were women.
Kenya’s Ministry for Education, Science and Technology is planning to increase education budget in the 2016/2017 in favor of science based subjects in schools and public universities.
Currently, science student enrolment in Kenyan universities is only 22 percent as opposed to arts and humanities that stands at 75 percent. Majority of girls take humanity based courses.