LUANAR STAFF and secondary school teachers pose for a group photo after the first session of the mentorship training at Bunda Campus
The need to improve the performance of girls in science subjects is particularly indispensable as the Government of Malawi announced the introduction of science-based curriculum in secondary schools starting from September 2015. Between 2014 and 2017, a team of female academics from Lilongwe University of Agriculture of Agriculture (LUANAR) initiated a research project in secondary schools in Malawi with funding from CABMACC under the Programmes Coordinating Office at LUANAR. The purpose of the project was twofold: to document factors affecting the performance of secondary school girls in science subjects and to design a toolkit that could be used for mentoring the girls in order to improve their performance in science subjects. The team interviewed the performing and non-performing female secondary school students, head teachers, career guidance teachers, and also organizations including Forum for Women Educationalists Malawi (FAWEMA), Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED), Creative Centre for Community Mobilisation (CRECCOM); Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MOEST); Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare (MOGCDSW) and Guidance, Counselling and Youth Development Centre for Africa (GCYDCA). Findings from the study provided valuable information which helped to develop the toolkit for mentoring girls entitled ‘Mentorship Guide for Promotion of Science Education among Girls: A tool kit for developing, implementing and evaluating mentorship programs for girls.’ The toolkit was presented to various stakeholders in mentorship of girl on Tuesday the second of February 2016 at Ufulu Gardens in Lilongwe. In addition, the team presented the report on the findings of the baseline study and the Stakeholder Mapping for Girls Education in Malawi. This process helped to refine the toolkit that aims at providing supporting material to Career Guidance and Counselling providers in Malawi who are working with girls in secondary school education. On Monday, 30th April 2018, the LUANAR Girl Mentorship project team organised a training workshop to equip teachers from various secondary schools across all regions with skills and knowledge on how they can mentor girls. They were also drilled on how best they can use the toolkit in mentorship programmes, aimed at improving the science performance among girls. In an interview after the training, Project Team Leader, Dr. Sekanawo Kasiya, said most girls do shun science subjects because they do perceive them as difficult and also because of lack of motivation. “In the study we conducted in 2015, it was revealed that most girls shun science subjects. This was because some girls felt science was for the boys, while for others argued that teachers had no confidence in them, and hence were not involved them in class and practical. Teachers were not motivating them to work hard in science subjects because of the attitude that girls cannot perform in subjects such as mathematics, physical science and biology,” She said. The study also revealed that girls were also burdened with poverty, household chores, pressures to get married, and most girls also missed classes as a result of menstruation due to lack of resources. Dr. Kasiya also explained that mentorship processes also resulted in girls being abused by the mentors and in most cases were once off, which was not enough to improve the performance of the girls. She also explained that in some cases, girls were not motivated by the Mother Groups which were tasked with the responsibility to mentor girls because they were older, and some even referred to them as ‘ukulu ukulu.’ “With this background, we had to develop guidelines on how we can establish effective mentorship programme that addresses the needs, and also with implementation that monitors progress of the girls’ performance. Thus we focused on the following: How we can conduct needs assessment, design mentorship programme, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the mentorship programme. All this process is explained in this mentorship toolkit,” She elucidated. Dr. Kasiya went further underlined that teachers and the communities have a role to play to enlighten students on their future. She said the school should be able to make students see what opportunities are out there when they finish their studies; however, schools cannot do this effectively without proper guidelines. Ms. Lusungu Mtika, a teacher at Mpherembe Community Day Secondary School in Mzimba, who was also in attendance at the training workshop, said that as teachers,they do have a role to play in promoting science education among girls. She said, teachers need to motivate students to work hard in science subjects. Herself, as the only female teacher, is a role model to her female students. “As a young teacher, my students are really inspired with me, and they are motivated that one day they should be like me or even much better than me,” said Lusungu Mtika, seemingly in her mid-20’s. She said they do have counseling and mentoring sessions where they do encourage girls to be proactive and take science subjects, but only when they performed badly. In some cases, teachers at her school gave learners punishments to make them work hard. Mtika said the training they underwent will help them to be active in teaching especially in science subjects. “The tool kit will help us to coach and mentor learnersso that they can take science subjects as any other subjects and make a difference in their studies,” She said. Developed by five authors namely Dr. Sekanawo Kasiya, Dr. Charity Chonde, Dr. Liviness Banda, Dr. Judith Kamoto and Dr. Serah Gondwe, the toolkit can be used by different stakeholders starting new mentorship programmes or those already in process of mentoring girls such as career guidance teachers in secondary schools, and other organisations. It is envisaged that the toolkit will help in promoting science education among girls in Malawi.