Difficulties Faced by Girls in the Study of Science,
Mathematics and Technology Subjects

Findings of the Female Education in Mathematics and Science in Africa
(FEMSA) project 1


The main goal of FEMSA is to improve the access and performance of girls in Science, Mathematics and Technology (SMT) at the primary and secondary school levels. The two-year Phase 1 of FEMSA has produced detailed Country Profiles of the status of girls' participation and performance in Mathematics and Science in Cameroon, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda. The culmination of Phase 1 activities in each country was the holding of National Seminars.

The transition phase of FEMSA from January to June was employed in concretising the National Action Plans into a set of interventions at the macro and micro level to address the problems revealed in Phase 1. The period was also used to strengthen the partnerships built in the project schools and communities. In each pilot phase country FEMSA Centres are being set up to coordinate the work of FEMSA and organize collaboration with other NGOs and agencies working in the area of gender and SMT. A regional seminar was held in Nairobi in June. The seminar was, attended by a representative cross-section of SMT and gender activists from 14 Sub-Saharan African countries and countries outside the region. The seminar was also attended by representatives of funding agencies including NORAD, The Rockefeller Foundation, UNESCO, UNICEF, GTZ and the Netherlands Embassy in Nairobi. The main aim of the seminar was the dissemination of the findings of Phase 1 and the launch of Phase Il. The seminar prepared comprehensive guidelines for the conduct of FEMSA activities during Phase Il and laid strategies for the implementation of FEMSA in new countries.

The Problem and Reasons

At the primary school level, all students study the same subjects so that girls' access to Mathematics and Science is dependent on their rate of enrolment. At the secondary level however, far fewer girls than boys opt for SMT subjects and consequently fail to qualify for entry to Mathematics/Pure Science based faculties at the tertiary level. And the performance of girls who do qualify is generally well below that of their male peers.

The major reasons for this state of affairs are the attitude of teachers, students and parents to the idea of women engaging in "male careers" such as engineering, technology, architecture etc. There is a belief among many teachers, including some women, that girls are intellectually incapable of studying "difficult and task-oriented" subjects such as Mathematics and Science. There is evidence that girls are actively discouraged by teachers, who do not expect good performance from the girls and do not wish to "struggle" with them, and that they are subject to severe harassment by their male fellow students. Parents have the belief that a girl who succeeds in SMT is somehow abnormal and a poor prospect for marriage. The girls themselves are negatively affected by these attitudes of teachers and parents, and often suffer from poor self-esteem.

Lessons of Phase 1

A number of major lessons emerged from Phase 1. The first was that most people close to the problem, teachers, parents and students, accepted the situation of poor participation and performance of girls in SMT subjects as somehow inevitable. The situation regarding girls was simply accepted and since the situation was inevitable there did not seem to be any point in trying to do something about it.

The second was that when they the problem is not inevitable but has curable causes, and began to look for solutions which could be implemented in a feasible and pragmatic way. There was then a great surge of goodwill to try to do something to alleviate the situation.

The third lesson was that despite all the goodwill and willingness to do something, not many people were really sure of what should be done.

The Way Forward

Phase Il of FEMSA, over the course of three years beginning in July 1998, will engage in various activities, both at national and local level. A major objective is to influence national policy development and decisions regarding girls' education by making a significant input in areas such as curriculum development, production of books and resource materials, teacher training and examinations.

At local level the major task will be to sensitise students, teachers and parents to a realisation of the difficulties and constraints faced by girls in the study of SMT subjects through small scale interventions at primary and secondary school level. These interventions will be used to develop innovative girl-friendly approaches to the learning of SMT; to relate the teaching of SMT to the girls' out of school experiences and their needs after school; to promote girls' interest in mathematics and science based careers and to experiment with alternative evaluation methods which test students' ability to reason and apply appropriate knowledge and skills rather than regurgitate crammed facts.

Eight new countries will be introduced to the FEMSA family: Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Senegal, Swaziland and Zambia, giving a better mix of anglophone, francophone and lusophone countries.

In the past few years the Sub-Saharan Africa region has heard much of donor fatigue. We are now afflicted with a new malady: evaluation fatigue. Countries, institutions and individuals are tired of being evaluated, studied, probed and questioned as to the nature of their problems. We yearn for solutions, for action to follow the evaluation, to be given support to implement the solutions that we believe will make a difference.

The problems must be addressed squarely at the local/community/school level and the solutions must have the blessing and confidence of the grassroots players. It is this interaction at the grassroots level with schools and communities that FEMSA hopes to promote in Phase Il and to use the knowledge gained at the local level to have a serious impact on national policy and procedures in curriculum development, teacher training and examinations.

A series of dissemination booklets has been published on the findings of Phase 1.

These are available below or from:

FEMSA Secretariat, FAWE, P 0 Box 53168, Nairobi, Kenya. Fax 254-2-210709 Email.- femsa@fawe.org.

Joseph P Oconnor FEMSA Regional Coordinator





Based on the Country Profiles Compiled by:

Rose Eboutou CAMEROON

Georgina Quaisie GHANA

Verdiana Masanja TANZANIA

JaneMulemwa UGANDA

Published by

Forum for African Women Educationalists

P O Box 53168
Nairobi, Kenya
ISBN: 9966-908-02-1
 Contact : femsa@fawe.org

  1.  Background and Research Methodology of the FEMSA project
  2. Resources and facilities for Teaching and Learning of Mathematics and Science in Schools
  3. Questionnaires used in the Primary School Studies
  4. National Seminars
  5. Extracurricular and out of school factors affecting girls' participation and performance in SMT Subjects: (Homme/Community Factors, distance from school, safety, time use)
  6. Parents' and community attitudes towards girls' participation in and access to education and science, mathematics and technology SMT subjects.
  7. Teachers' attitudes towards the study of Science, Mathematics and Technical Subjects by Girls in Secondary Schools
  8. Students' attitude the teaching and learning of SMT subject by girls in primary school.
  9. Teacher training qualification and working conditions
  10. Status of Girls' participation and performance in SMT Subjects in Secondary Schools
  11. Influence of syllabuses and examinations in teaching and learning of SMT.
  12. Focused group discussions, interviews and the plan methodology