In Kenya, although 70.4% of girls (15-19yrs) achieve some sort of primary education, only 4.5% complete secondary education (WB, 2012). Only 3.5% of women (aged 15+) have completed tertiary education (WB, 2015). This is due to various socio-economic challenges such as teenage pregnancies, early marriages, FGM, poverty and lack of mentorship. Rural areas lack outreach, leadership & mentorship programmes at the key primary-to-secondary transition where dropout rates are high. The Elimisha Msichana Elimisha Jamii na Astronomia (EMEJA) project, Swahili for ‘educate a girl child, educate the entire community with Astronomy’ or rather, society benefits when a girl is educated, supported by funding from the IAU Office for Astronomy for Development, is addressing these issues in rural Kenya via outreach programmes, mentorship, and targeted Astro-STEM workshops and scholarships opportunities, guided and supported by long-term student tracking and monitoring:
1. Mentorship and outreach Scheme: EMEJA is mentoring and supporting girls as they complete primary education. This is achieved by visiting primary schools, engaging the community in roundtable discussions, and focusing on positive actions that the community can implement in tackling these challenges. Each girl in the final year of primary education is paired with an EMEJA mentor.
2. Tracking and long-term monitoring: EMEJA mentors keep track of their mentees throughout secondary school through face-to-face or phone calls every three to four months. Aimed for EMEJA mentees transitioning between primary-to-secondary education.
3. Astro-STEM workshops and mentorship: The key objectives are to change misconceptions about STEM subjects among schoolgirls and facilitate early participation of girls in sciences; to improve grades in STEM subjects; to increase the number of girls selecting Physics in Year 3-4 and sitting for the Physics national examination; increase enrolment of girls in STEM courses at the tertiary level; and lastly, to develop critical infrastructure in target schools such as equipping their Physics laboratory with the necessary and basic lab equipment facilities.
4. Computer Literacy: providing the target schools with computers and offer introduction to computer studies these students.
5. EMEJA tuition fee scholarship: Lack of school fees is the key reason for school discontinuation in rural areas and disproportionately affects girls. Therefore, we are working with rural secondary schools to provide tuition fee sponsorship to some of the girls from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and who would otherwise fail to enroll for secondary education.
So far, the project has engaged 1074 schoolgirls in both primary and secondary schools; 16 secondary school teachers; numerous primary school teachers; and 10 EMEJA Astro-STEM tutors. Four secondary schools have been provided basic Physics lab equipment and 2 secondary schools with 7 computers, with one school already starting to offer the computer studies subject which is 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 as compared to only 20% before the program. Morever, the number of Physics students at one school went from 1 to 17 after the workshop and mentoring.
Further evaluation is planned as the project continues its activities.