Taking a stand on gender-responsive STEM education in Francophone Africa

UNESCO, including the International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA), and the Ministry of National Education of Senegal organized a regional training for 12 French-speaking African countries on gender-responsive science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education from 12 to 16 November 2018 in Dakar, Senegal. The training was supported by the Government of Japan and in cooperation with several other development partners, including the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation (MESRI) of Senegal, the Centre for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education in Africa of Kenya (CEMASTEA), the Institut de la Francophonie pour l’éducation et la formation (IFEF), the African Union International Centre for Girls’ and Women’s Education in Africa (AU/CIEFFA), Microsoft and the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE).

Only 35% of students studying STEM in higher education globally are women, according to UNESCO’s report Cracking the Code. Addressing the low representation and participation of girls and women in STEM studies and careers is critical to building inclusive and sustainable societies.

To enable education stakeholders and teachers to deliver gender-responsive STEM education and to increase the participation of girls in STEM fields, UNESCO organized the regional training on the theme Cracking the Code: Gender-responsive quality STEM education.

Some 120 participants from 12 French-speaking African countries (Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Madagascar, Mali, Niger and Senegal) participated.

 “In the world in general and particularly in Africa, women entering STEM studies and careers represent a very small percentage. The under-representation of women in STEM, beyond the issue of gender equality, is reflected in the failure to develop human resources, half of which are women,” stated the Director of the UNESCO Regional Office for West Africa (Sahel). “In addition, there is a strong demand for qualified professionals in STEM. Therefore, encouraging girls and women to get involved in STEM is becoming an imperative for UNESCO, the African Union and many other organizations.”

An online platform developed by UNESCO was used before, during and after the training. Participants appreciated the platform, which assessed their knowledge and understanding of the presentations and other resources of the workshop. They particularly liked that the online assessment incorporated real-time analysis and feedback, as well as tools for exchange and knowledge sharing. They promised to stay connected in order to deliver on their action plans and to engage in a network on STEM and Gender in Francophone Africa.

The training drew on the evidence base of what works and promoted skills development through interactive gender-responsive pedagogies and classroom management strategies. “The training was very interesting because it enabled us to elaborate STEM lesson plans and showed us some of the challenges that teachers may face when teaching STEM education,” said Salid Hassani Ahmed from Comoros.

The six modules covered in the course included: (1) STEM education in Africa, (2) STEM education and gender, (3) institutional leadership for gender-responsive STEM education, (4) gender-responsive pedagogy, (5) gender-responsive teaching and learning resources and (6) digital skills and information and communications technology (ICT) integration in STEM education.

“We are going to apply the skills acquired during this training when we return to our countries so that finally the gender dimension will be taken into consideration in STEM education,” said Ancille Ngendakumana from Burundi.

Next steps for IICBA include support to the implementation of country action plans, further knowledge and resource sharing, and the monitoring and evaluating of actions taken by participating countries.