11 February is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science – and a reminder that today, many women and girls continue to be excluded from participating fully in science education and careers.
Ghana is no exception. Girls’ participation in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects in secondary schools is still lower than that of boys. There are many factors that influence girls’ participation in science, including a false belief among girls that science-related subjects are more suited for boys.
To increase girls’ participation in STEM-related courses in secondary schools and higher levels of education, the UNESCO Accra Office and partners are organising STEM clinics in selected districts in Ghana. These run on a quarterly basis to sensitise girls to various STEM-related careers that girls can pursue (e.g. teaching, medicine, laboratory work, or telecommunications engineering).
STEM clinics have a strong potential for increasing girls’ interest in science. Girls have a unique opportunity to interact with young female scientists and learn from the wide range of opportunities offered by the study of STEM subjects. Interactions with role models boost girls’ confidence about participating in STEM-related courses and helps to challenge the negative perceptions they may have about pursuing a career in STEM.
In December 2016, UNESCO Accra in collaboration with the Girls’ Education Unit of the Ghana Education Service organised their first STEM clinic in the Jasikan District of the Volta Region, which is among the lowest performing districts for girls’ participation in STEM. “Currently, there are only 29 girls reading pure science (physics, chemistry, biology) out of 855 girls in the three Senior High Schools in the Jasikan District. This is not good enough. Through the STEM clinics, we will improve these statistics in the coming years”, said Ruth Matogah, Girls’ Education Officer in Jasikan District.
Over 200 primary and secondary school girls participated in the one-day event in Jasikan District. At the start of the STEM clinic, very few participants raised their hands when asked if they would like to choose science at Senior High School; however, about 80% of participants raised their hands when asked the same question at the end of the day. It is still early to measure the impact of this intervention, yet it is encouraging to see the girls’ inspiring smiles as they left the venue of the STEM clinic.
This activity is part of a broader project in Ghana under the UNESCO-HNA Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education to improve the quality and relevance of girls’ learning. The UNESCO Accra Office will support the organisation of additional STEM clinics in the same district as well as in four other districts throughout 2017. The UNESCO-HNA Project Steering Committee in Ghana will plan follow up visits to evaluate preliminary results of the STEM clinics.