Since November 2014, UNESCO has been hosting mentorship programmes in STEM through Scientific Camps of Excellence for secondary school girls with the objective of unlocking their potential in STEM for a secure & sustainable future. This has been successful through the partnership of the Ministry of Education, the Kenya National Commission for UNESCO (KNATCOM), the National Commission for Science Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI), Public Universities, Industries and other STEM stakeholders. The camps involved a one-week intensive mentorship program, with women role models in STEM taking the mantle to mentor the girls and exposing them to real life experiences working in STEM Fields.
The advent of the COVID 19 pandemic led to the closure of all schools and prohibition of public gatherings as a way of curbing the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, this has created a ripple effect whereby the STEM mentorship camp was no longer a viable option. To sustain the momentum created, UNESCO designed new ways to reach the students with a view to ensuring that the mentorship programme continues.
The new STEM Mentorship programme designed by UNESCO seeks to use technology to disseminate the necessary information on STEM to the students wherever they are in the country. The programme uses the available online and media platform to keep the students connected to STEM and STEM role models in the face of COVID-19 with the objective of inspiring their young minds to embrace STEM through exposure to the beauty and power of science. The UNESCO programme is complementary to KICD’s educational content, which is delivered through online platforms to ensure continued learning for all children in the country amidst the school closure, where use of television, radios and mobile phones is the mode of content transmission. UNESCO’s STEM digital programme will be implemented through mainstream radio and television channels as well as community and local radio stations. The aim is to ensure that majority of the students are reached with the information irrespective of which part of the country they find themselves in.
The UNESCO digital STEM mentorship programme is implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Education, NACOSTI, KNATCOM, Safaricom and the L’OREAL-UNESCO For Women in Science Programme. It aims to provide students with information on the different STEM fields – from the basic to applied sciences, the subject combination needed for admission into the different courses and the available employment opportunities for professionals in such fields. The programme is not oblivious to the many challenges that face adolescents and the gender stereotypes that have continued to impede effective participation of girls in the sciences. The need for psychosocial support for the students necessary now more than ever, and the programme has included a Life and Survival component in the mentorship to respond to some of the challenges that are likely to be faced by both boys and girls during this COVID-19 period as well as in their studies. UNESCO and partners believe that this digital STEM Mentorship programme will unlock the potential within the students, and particularly girls, and enhance their ability to contribute to the peace and prosperity of their families and communities.
This programme was launched virtually on 15 June 2020 and was graced by the UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Siddharth Chatterjee, the Chief Administrative Secretary in the Ministry of Education Ms. Mumina Bonaya, The Principal Secretary for the State Department of Early Learning and Basic Education, Dr. Belio Kipsang; The Principal Secretary, state department of Maritime and Shipping Affairs Ms. Nancy Karigithu, Director-General of NACOSTI, Prof. Walter Oyawa, the Senior Advisor in the Office of the President, Dr. Ruth Kagia, KICD Director Dr. Joel Mabonga, Safaricom representative Mr. Kennedy Kahura and the representative of the Secretary General of KNATCOM, Dr. James Njogu; among other key Government officials. Others who participated included the Country Director of UNWomen and representatives of UNHCR and UNICEF from the UN fraternity. Others who connected to the webinar launch included representatives of the Ministry of Education in Rwanda, MasterCard Foundation, Federation of Women Educationalists (FAWE) and Microsoft. A total of 118 participants joined the webinar for the launch of the UNESCO/GoK Digital STEM Mentorship Programme.
The Director for UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa, Ms. Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta in her remarks, highlighted the benefits of role model in mentoring the students, and her experience in witnessing the impact of the mentorship camps on students who attended such sessions during some of the sessions she attended. She emphasized that women in power will be the landmark of change especially in vices affecting women such as female genital mutilation. She expressed her hope that Safaricom would support creation of digital village resource centres to facilitate uptake of technology and access to such programmes by more students and even teachers and parents.
The 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 hurdles in their pursuit for education - which include 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 programme will involve mentors recording their voices to be aired through Kenya Broadcasting cooperation, and community radio stations. The recorded content will also be translated into local languages for transmission in vernacular languages. To ensure direct connection with the role models for continued mentorship, Safaricom has established an interactive short code-messaging platform – the “ASK A STEM MENTOR PLATFORM”, where students can send their questions on different areas and role models will decide on the most appropriate mode of response. The programme will run for a period of 11 weeks. However, the use of technology for this mentorship programme is expected to continue in the new normal