Background

The National Commission for Science Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) has since 2014 been partnering with UNESCO, Ministry of Education and Kenya National Commission for UNESCO in a mentorship programme for secondary schools’ students in STEM subjects with an objective of unlocking their potential in STEM for a secure & sustainable future. The programme involves a one-week intensive mentorship program for average performing students. The Camp brings women role models in STEM to speak and mentor the girls besides exposing the girls to what goes on in the learning and work environment. The COVID 19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges in the education sector. The Government of Kenya directed closure of all schools, and prohibited public gatherings. This means that the STEM mentorship camps cannot take place, which calls for innovative ways to reach the students, and sustain the momentum created by the mentorship programme.

The Ministry of Education through the Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development has been leading response to ensure continued access to education for all children in the country during the closure of the learning institutions through the dissemination of educational content on online platforms for teaching and learning. The use of Television through the EDU Channel, radios and mobile phones has now become the medium of instruction by teachers who have recorded their lessons for dissemination to students through virtual means.

The Cabinet Secretary for Education, Prof. George Magoha, during the launch of the KUCCPS report on the 2020 university admissions, pointed out that some degree courses such as Bachelor of Science in Entrepreneurship, Bachelor of Science (Energy Technology) and Bachelor of Science in Automotive Technology are among the degree courses taught in Kenyan public universities that received either a few or zero applications by last year’s 122, 000-plus qualified Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) candidates. This information gives a clear picture of the need to provide students with information on the importance of the different STEM fields for sustainable development and the available employment opportunities through mentorship programmes, and particularly to equip the girls with the necessary knowledge and skills to enable them overcome the gender stereotypes and enhance their self-esteem.

The STEM Mentorship Programme has had to re-engineer their approach to enable mentors reach the students by embracing digital platforms with an objective of keeping students connected to STEM in the face of COVID’19 while inspiring their young minds through exposure to the beauty and power of science. The digital STEM mentorship programme will be a partnership between Ministry of Education, NACOSTI, UNESCO, KNATCOM, Safaricom and the L’OREAL-UNESCO For Women in Science Programme and will provide students with educational information, life and  survival skills while presenting to them the opportunities that are relevant to their lives and future employment opportunities in STEM fields to unlock their potential and enhance their ability to contribute to the peace and prosperity of their families and communities. The dissemination of STEM mentorship services through digital means is expected to enable students to see the value of technology in their lives and the need for creativity, thus boosting their interest in STEM education and the acquisition of entrepreneurial skills for job creation and self-sustenance as opposed to relying on the Government for employment upon completion of their university studies.

Programme Launch and Key Highlights 

This programme was launched on the 15th of June 2020 from 11:00am to 12:30PM through a webinar. It was attended by over 80 and graced by the Chief Administrative Secretary, Ministry of Education Ms. Mumina Bonaya, The Principal Secretary, state department of Basic and early learning Dr. Belio Kipsang, The Principal Secretary, state department of Maritime and Shipping Affairs Ms. Nancy Karigithu, Director General NACOSTI, Prof. Walter Oyawa, Senior Advisor in the Office of the President Dr. Ruth Kagia, KICD Director Dr. Joel Mabongao, Jayakumar Ramasamy– Chief, Natural Science programmes UNESCO (Launch Chair); Regional Director for UNESCO Regional Office Ms. Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Siddharth Chatterjee, Safaricom representative Mr. Kennedy Kahura, representative of Executive Secretary of KNATCOM among others. A team of officers from NACOSTI also attended the webinar. They included the Director of Scheduled Sciences Dr. Roy Mugiira, The Chief Analyst in charge of Social Sciences Ms. Margaret Muthee, The Chief Analyst in charge of Agricultural and Allied Sciences Dr. David Njubi, Senior Officers who included Mr. Stephen Situma, Mr. Komen Chepkonga, Ms. Teresia Nyawira and Ms. Rael Odhiambo.

The programme will involve mentors recording sessions that will be aired through Kenya Broadcasting cooperation, and community radio stations. The recorded content will also be translated to local languages and aired though radio stations in vernacular languages so as to reach as many students as possible. The programme will run through a period of 11 weeks. Safaricom will also provide an interactive forum, where students can send in their questions, which will be answered by the mentors.

Chief Administrative Secretary, Ministry of Education Ms. Mumina Bonaya encouraged the programme to put extra effort in reaching students from marginalized areas, who experience many handles in their pursuit for education which included female genital mutilation and early marriages among other challenges.

Dr. Belio Kipsang appreciated the programme that would not only reach the girls but also the boys across the various levels of education. He indicated his concerns that some University Programmes that are important in development of the country had attracted few or no students and therefore underpinning the need for STEM mentorship.

The Principal Secretary, state department of Maritime and Shipping Affairs Ms. Nancy Karigithu, indicated that courses such as oceanography had attracted very few students for lack of knowledge on the benefits of pursuing such courses. She took the meeting though efforts that she had personally been engaged in to sensitize young students on the benefits of maritime related courses and was hopeful that with time, these efforts will bear fruits.

While giving his remarks, the Director General of NACOSTI Prof. Walter Oyawa noted that as Engineer, he understood the underlying challenges in pursuing STEM courses, and that NACOSTI would support the programme to achieve its objectives. He indicated that NACOSTI has been supporting the programme since its initiation in 2014, and reassured the partners of his personal and institutional support going forward. He indicated that in the same spirit, NACOSTI was also collaborating with other actors in the Science, Technology and Innovation such as Organization of Women in Science in order to promote STEM.

The Regional Director for UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa Ms. Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta highlighted the benefits of role model STEM mentorship, and how she had seen the change the mentorship created in students who attended such sessions during the few times she had personally been involved in mentorship programmes. She is convinced that women in power will be the landmark of change especially in vices affecting women such as female genital mutilation. She is hopeful that Safaricom would support creation of digital village resource centres.

Conclusion 

Generally, all who had an opportunity to speak supported the idea of the STEM mentorship for students, and the need to assist in sustaining student interest in STEM by inspiring their young minds with the beauty and power of science, and equipping them with relevant information to enable them make informed career choices. The dissemination of STEM mentorship services through digital means is expected to enable students to see the value of technology in their lives and the need for creativity, thus boosting their interest in STEM education and the acquisition of entrepreneurial skills for job creation and self-sustenance as opposed to relying on the Government for employment upon completion of their university studies.