Yvonne Kevia is an 18-year-old high school student in Rwanda. She wants to become a chemical engineer. She enjoys doing experiments and taking careful notes in her high school laboratory in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city.
Kevia’s interest in science is important to her. But it is also part of a larger goal for the Rwandan government: to prepare more girls for science and technology related careers.
The hope is to also create a model for other African governments to follow.
“Yes we can as girls”
Many girls in Kevia’s class are also interested in careers in science and technology. Keza Marie Aimeé is one of them. She plans to become a pilot. Her backup plan is to be a pharmacist, she says.
"The first thing which came into my mind before choosing this school is that I wanted to live with girls who know what they want. The reason I want to become the pilot is that we're having few girls who are pilots and I want to show people that yes, we can as girls."
Aimée and Kevia both attend the FAWE Girls' School. It is one of many STEM-centered schools in Rwanda that have opened in the past ten years. STEM is an education program that specializes in learning science, technology, engineering, and math.
FAWE is considered one of the country’s best STEM schools. The boarding school admits girls from poor families. On national exams, the FAWE’s students often score in the top percentile.
Pascale Dukuzi is a chemistry teacher at FAWE Girls’ school. He says it is important to encourage girls to study STEM fields.
“…Believing that they have that potential of doing sciences as well as boys, I think it's very good for them because with sciences, one can do many things."
Developing Rwanda with STEM
The Rwandan Ministry of Education reports that the number of girls studying STEM in school is on the rise. The number of girls in secondary schools taking science classes grew from 48.7 percent in 2011 to over 55 percent in 2015.
This is all part of the Rwandan government’s plan to transform the economy by 2020. It hopes to do this in part by increasing the number of people with careers in STEM fields.
The World Bank says Rwanda is one of a small number of African countries leading the way in expanding STEM education.
A 2017 report that measured the ability of African governments to develop science and technology fields placed Rwanda third, behind Morocco and Tanzania. The report said Rwanda’s efforts to expand STEM education include establishing a science ministry, creating research programs, partnering with private groups and awarding scholarships.
The Ministry of Education’s budget increased nearly 10 percent from last year. Fourteen percent of its $280-million budget is for STEM projects. This includes developing "smart classrooms" with computers and internet connectivity and building a center for theoretical physics.
The Rwandan government wants to double the current budget for STEM education at the university level.
Learning despite barriers
Jeannette Gahunga graduated from university three years ago with a degree in computer programming. Now she is a volunteer teacher at a public primary school in Kigali.
She teaches her students how to create interactive animations using a free programming software called Skratch.
Half of the students in her class are girls. Gahunga says she tries to support them, because mentorship is important to keeping girls on the STEM track.
"They're able to make innovation, and they are not shy as before, now they are really learning very hard. The girls in my class, they are being the same as boys. They are hardworking as others and they are following very well."
But girls still face cultural barriers, says Josephine Kobusingye, an education activist. She takes part in a support group where female science students get together to talk about their professional goals.
"Culturally, African girls and women were the people to stay in the backdoors and never on the front line,” she said.
Kobusingye added that another difficulty Rwandan women and girls deal with is the “after-effects of genocide.”
“Some of these girls are orphans. Some of them are living with step-parents who do not support their education… Some of the girls have HIV-infected parents. These girls are dealing with so much,” Kobusingye said.
However, she believes that with STEM, there is hope for them.
I’m Phil Dierking.
Chika Oduah reported this story for VOANews. Phil Dierking adapted her report for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Are STEM subjects important in schools in your home? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.
Words in This Story
boarding school - n. school where students can live during the school term
double - adj. made of two parts that are similar or exactly the same
encourage - v. to make (someone) more determined, hopeful, or confident
innovation - n. a new idea, device, or method
interactive - adj. designed to respond to the actions, commands, etc., of a user
mentor - n. someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person
programming - n. the act or job of creating computer programs
orphan - n. a child whose parents are dead
scholarship - n. an amount of money that is given by a school, an organization, etc., to a student to help pay for the student's education
track - n. the course along which someone or something moves or proceeds
transform - v. to change (something) completely and usually in a good way