Supporting Education for Girls in Kenya

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Former DARA Big Data MPhil student Carringtone Kinyanjui is pictured here at a school in Osorongai, Kenya. He is showing students an image of a government-funded satellite prototype assembled in the Physics Dept at TU Kenya, demonstrating the exciting opportunities available to those with STEM educations

For most of 2020 DARA Big Data student Carringtone Kinyanjui was in Manchester, busy with his Masters research on policy, economies and big data in South Africa and Kenya. After returning to Kenya last October he has been juggling a job tutoring Physics at the Technical University of Kenya alongside policy research work for Policy at Manchester. Despite these demanding work commitments he still found the time to devote to his main passions; outreach work and astronomy.

Over the past couple of months he has been working with Elimisha Msichana, Elimisha Jamii na Astronomia (EMEJA), a mentorship programme set up in 2019 for schoolgirls between 12 to 18 years old. The programme was founded by Kenyan DARA Project student Ann Njeri, who is an Astrophysics PhD student at the University of Manchester. Elimisha Msichana Elimisha Jamii is Swahili for ‘Educate the Girl, Educate the Community’ and it has received funding for its work from the Office of Astronomy for Development, which is a key partner of DARA Big Data.

 

Ann saw that many girls in rural regions of Kenya were not completing their education. This is due to various socio-economic issues such as teenage pregnancies, childhood marriages, poverty (leading to a lack of money for school fees) and no mentorship or leadership programmes for young schoolgirls. Having experienced the many benefits of education for herself, Ann feels very strongly that all Kenyan girls and women should have the same opportunities she has had. With this in mind she formed a network of schools and like-minded teachers, tutors and mentors, who are all passionate about helping girls to excel in life through general mentorship, long-term tracking and monitoring, and STEM workshops & mentorship.

Statistics show that less than 20% of girls aged 15 – 19 in Kenya complete secondary education and even fewer go on to further education. These statistics are even worse in the large rural regions of the country, leading to continuing inequality. This hampers the social and economic growth in poorer regions, with girls not able to realise their full potential by developing careers outside of the home. EMEJA wants to widely promote the fact that girls need education just as much as boys do, and to encourage communities to support their girls to stay in education. The project has already achieved great things, including funding much-needed lab equipment and computers for schools. In addition it has given financial support to disadvantaged families for school fees, whose daughters would otherwise miss out on secondary education, and has put effective mentoring schemes in place to inspire and support schoolgirls.

Science and STEM subjects are often perceived as difficult and more appropriate for men, therefore the number of girls studying them is unfortunately quite low. To counteract this EMEJA is working with local teachers and tutors to jointly organise Astro-STEM Workshops & Mentorship in rural secondary schools throughout the year. These events allow female pupils to get involved in fun activities related to astronomy, physics, electronics, geography and computers. The Astro-STEM Workshops & Mentorship have been very successful and have so far reached hundreds of young schoolgirls who have been very keen to participate. One of the schools involved in this project had only 1 female physics student before the workshop was held but as a direct result of Astro-STEM activities suddenly gained 16 more!

Carringtone has done previous outreach work and was enthusiastic about getting involved with these workshops as a tutor. During May and June 2021 he and his fellow tutors worked with local teachers at 4 schools to deliver workshops to 547 students in Kitale, a region in the North-West of Kenya, and in Murang'a, a central part of the country. The tutors, who are students and graduates based in Nairobi, travelled several hours on consecutive weekends to the regions where the workshops were held. These areas host many farmland communities and are considered to be the 'bread baskets' of the country, however there is a lot of hardship and some of the students that he talked to faced very challenging circumstances at home. Education is key to ending the cycle of poverty so it is essential that young people, particularly girls as they are more likely to drop out, are encouraged to stay in school and develop skillsets fit for the 21st century. EMEJA has tried to include parents in workshops where possible so that they can see for themselves the advantages to their daughters from continued education. Some of these parents were not able to experience education themselves, which can lead to their children lacking support at home to stay in school.

 

 

 

Astro-STEM Workshop & Mentorship activities are designed to be both fun and engaging and to encourage students to work together. Girls were tutored in fairly basic experiments, such as generating electricity in the lab with acid and a lemon and using hydraulic pumps to demonstrate pressure transmission principles. In addition introductory computer lessons were given; many students had previously never used a computer as their schools have been unable to invest in IT equipment. EMEJA has been able to secure computers for some of these schools, allowing girls to develop valuable IT skills for the first time. Carringtone spoke to many girls throughout the workshops who had previously dropped Physics as a subject but who were now very keen to take it up again. He found these girls had a lot of potential; they were naturally intelligent and very curious to know more about the world around them. Carringtone says ‘EMEJA serves the purpose of opening student’s eyes to other parts of the world that they had not considered. It was gratifying to see the possibilities expand for them as they began to set their bars higher.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you would like to know more about EMEJA’s work so far and the plans for the future please see the project's website; https://www.elimishamsichana.org/emeja. You can also follow the various social media pages for updates on the project and its progress; Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. More Astro-STEM Workshops & Mentorship are planned for later in the year.

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Schoolgirls at St Peters Girls School read about EMEJA and the support that the project is offering them to stay in education

Tutor Elizabeth Wanjiriu Kamau, a University of Nairobi Astrophysics graduate, provides mentorship to schoolgirls by talking about her own journey through education and her career path

Students and teachers from UPEC Girls Secondary School in Osorongai pose in front of a giant mural depicting various school subjects and future career options

Pupils at Noigam Day Secondary School in Kachibora get to grips with using a computer for the first time, supervised by their teacher

This photo of girls at Noigam Day Secondary School captures their excitement at learning and developing. Students at every school EMEJA has worked with have shown huge enthusiasm for the Astro-STEM workshops and mentoring programme. Teachers report that students are now much more engaged and motivated in class and can't wait to take part in more workshops!