Educating girls in science
Girls in Kenya use science to change their communities
When I was growing up I believed that science was difficult because all my classmates told me so. It was only when my chemistry teacher told my dad about my talent in science that I moved from home science class to chemistry class. This was the beginning of my learning encounter with chemistry, which led to an advanced degree and a career in teaching. More than 20 years later, I am now part of a team bringing together over 100 girls in Kwale County, Kenya, to talk about how they are bringing solutions to their communities based on their experiences with science.
Rechal Adam is one of these girls. She is confident, a good communicator and has taken a leading role in her school’s science club to make life better for those around her. Together with other science club members and their teacher’s support, they have taken part in a community-initiated project that is taking science beyond the classroom.
Through interviews with community members, Rechal and her peers found that many of the homes do not have toilets. When it rains, the surface water gets contaminated, and this is the same water that some people drink. Rechal, and her friends, found that cholera, diarrhea and dehydration are common sicknesses in their community. According to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, at least 1.8 billion people globally use a source of drinking water that is fecally contaminated, and each day, nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrhoeal diseases.
These girls are part of the Educating Girls in Science (EGIS) project, which is supported by the Intel Foundation and Aga Khan Foundation USA and implemented by the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa. EGIS has trained girls in science clubs to use classroom science to respond to issues within their communities. Its purpose is to encourage positive changes in attitude towards girls taking science subjects and to showcase science as a life skill to improve the quality of life.
Rechal, together with the science club members, have suggested the use of biosand filters as a way to clean the water, reduce gastrointestinal diseases and create awareness. They reflect in their proposal that “although this may not solve the water crisis in the Jego community, it can become part of a comprehensive public health policy to restore the fundamental right to clean water.” The water filter has gone through progressive improvement after presentation to their peers and science teachers. The hope is that eventually it will provide members with a means of accessing clean drinking water.
As a student, I understood the science taught in the classroom but I silently struggled to link many of the topics with everyday experiences outside the class. EGIS girls, Lindsey Chanzera and Shufaa Salim (Fig 1), among 63 other science club members of Matuga Girls High School, are making strong connections between classroom learning and improving the quality of life. They came together to figure out how to deal with the smell from leftover food in their school and suggested the breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen to produce biogas.
With the support of their teacher Mr. Rajab Tsuma, their solution was an innovative mini biogas plant using locally available material. While exploring the issue, the girls realized that biogas is a good alternative to fuel and could be a solution in rural areas where electricity is not available. They found out that different types of animal waste have been used as biogas in other parts of Kenya.
This solution is one way of addressing a large global issue. Over 1.2 billion people – one in five people of the world’s population – do not have access to electricity, according to research around SDG 7. The majority are concentrated in a dozen countries in Africa and Asia.
Through EGIS, the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa has been working with the Ministry of Education Science and Technology (MoEST), Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), the Centre for Mathematics, Science and Technology in Africa (CEMASTEA), and science teachers to develop materials and train 41 male and 24 female teachers in inquiry approaches in science pedagogy as well as make it more relevant to the experiences girls go through in their daily lives. The 24 community-based projects undertaken by the girls are enabling them to acquire recommended competencies by KICD, including critical and creative thinking, problem solving, decision making, and communicating effectively, among others. The EGIS team continues to meet these girls and their science teachers, to create a forum to expand knowledge and skills and change attitudes and values.
Contributed by : Lucy Mwandawiro, is an International Baccalaureate (IB) Chemistry teacher and EGIS Project Coordinator at The Aga Khan Academy Mombasa.