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ENGAGING LITTLE CHILDREN AND GIRLS IN STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math)

First and for most I would like to introduce the Hawassa University STEM Center I am working in. Hawassa University STEM Centre is built inside Hawassa University on 5000m square plot of land. The Centre has six laboratories: namely Computer engineering, Mechanical engineering, Electronics and Electricity, Optics , Biology and Horticulture.

 


The Centre‘s primary purpose is to inspire middle and higher level students to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering hobbies, Academics, and Careers, through hands-on practice & enrichment. In addition, the Centre is expected to become a premier educational facility that will benefit elementary and secondary students in the localities of the Centre and it‘s environ. It permanently maintains at the gate of the Centre a plaque bearing motto "INSIDE EVERY CHILD IS A SCIENTIST".

 



Its vision is to create model science and Engineering Centre which serves as a forum for early identification and cultivation of budding scientists and Engineers.  It has also a mission to develop an enriched curriculum and to reinforce science education by providing additional hands-on training students who have interest and capability in science and engineering fields.

 


To meet the vision and mission of the center and implement effectively what is intended, attending capacity building workshops and sharing the experiences of other similar institutions in the country and more of abroad was mandatory. Thanks to MASHAV, I had been part of the ''International Seminar on Education for Science and Math through the STEM framework, March 2017 in Israel''. It has granted me the opportunity to learn how teachers incorporate STEM in their daily teaching activities and practices using different teaching methods.

 


Science curriculum in Ethiopia has traditionally focused upon the technical contents of science, the theories, generalizations, laws and models that can be found in science textbooks.  However, as is it revealed in different studies, professional organizations and policy makers have long advocated that students should also learn something about the nature of science itself through their science education. This policy goal is increasingly reflected in science curricula. 

 


Based on the experiences I have gained and the courses I have attended at the Aharon Ofri International Training Center and  the visit to different schools  in Jerusalem, I decided to design a pilot  project on " "ENGAGING LITTLE CHILDREN AND GIRLS IN STEM ". Israeli experience in this regard inspired me a lot to focus and pay more attention on hands-on learning to little children and girls.

 


When children get their hands-on exciting projects, it inspires them to learn. The learning pyramid shows that people learn 75% by doing something for themselves. As to my opinion and as it is agreed by most educators, an ideal way to teach STEM for little kids is to go out into nature. This method of learning becomes more relevant when students go outside to explore nature. By asking the right questions , we can help stimulating investigations where students are identifying objects, making comparisons, making predictions, testing ideas, and sharing discoveries, all while observing their natural environment.

 


Children are incredibly active learners when they are at the very younger age. So we can start building their foundation in STEM as soon as they join this world. Unfortunately, in most academic instructions in Ethiopia, children are in a passive or receptive mode instead of a more active, even interactive mode. In my visit from the Israeli primary schools, what inspired me a lot was, early childhood education tap in to children's natural curiosity and give them ample opportunities to be active participants in their own learning. They created a natural settings offer children almost unlimited opportunities to explore and investigate, helping them build STEM skills that create a solid foundation for the future learning.

 


Having this experience in mind, when I come back from Israel, I brought primary school students from grade 1, 2, 3, and 4. Because in my STEM center I have the experience teaching students from grade 5 to 12.  Previously, I have thought that it was very difficult teaching lower graders. I have changed my mind after my visit and the course. I understood that there are simple ways to teach lower graders. I have tried and seen how they are actively engaged and interested. I with my staff continue doing this to bring more and more changes.

 

 

How did I do this? Obviously there are lots of ways doing this. But the simplest and the more powerful way I preferred was taking them outside in to nature. It is abundantly apparent to almost any adult that once you let a child walk down a path in a forest, they start to explore their surrounding immediately. It is that sense of explorer that we need to tap in to. 


 I have intended to start STEM from 3 years old kids, to have a more developed park, plant a garden, drip irrigation program, make a terrarium, etc.

 


My second emphasis was engaging girls in STEM. We actually started working with girls but it was not enough. After Israel, I decided to make more effort on girls go STEM.

 

 


Now a days there are different STEM programs that provide financial and technical supports and mentorship to attract women because they give women opportunities to financially support themselves for completion of their academic career and also provide role models to reduce fear of STEM fields. A diverse workplace with increased representation of women is not only positive for economic success of a community but also important for building confidence in women's abilities and closing the gender gap.


Gender skill gaps are a key constraint to innovation, hindering productivity, growth and economic development in developing countries, especially in sub- Saharan African countries. In particular, shortages in the supply of trained professionals in disciplines related to STEM may weaken the innovation potential of a community. A wide gender gap has persisted over the years at all levels of STEM disciplines throughout the world. Even though the participation of women in higher education in Ethiopia has increased, they are still underrepresented. The untapped potential of fully trained and credentialed women represents an important lost opportunity not only for women themselves but also for society as a whole. Special attention should be given to school girls to lean in STEM. But it doesn't mean that boys are neglected. It is just to fill the gap and balance the participation.

 

From the courses I had attended and educational experiences I have gained in Israeli Educational system, I am now confident enough how to contribute to the academic and policy debate in my country by indicating  the main factors put forward in my project to explain gender inequalities in recruitment, retention, and promotion in STEM disciplines and by providing evidence of the scope and results of policies directed to obtain a better gender balance in the sector. We brought more girls to our center.  


Written by
NIGIST TILAHUN GEBREMEDHIN,

HAWASSA UNIVERSITY STEM CENTRE

HAWASSA, ETHIOPIA.

Tele:  +251 928684906

          +251 916921474

Email: gtinig2009@yahoo.com