Exploring Enabling Interventions for Increasing Female Students’ Access and Participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (Stem) Disciplines in Kenyan Public Universities
Mbirianjau, Lucy Wandiri
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Globally, studies continue to document disparities in women’s access and participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines in the universities. In developing countries such as Kenya, such disparities are more structural and systematic. Despite existence of policies at the national and institutional level, no single and clear road mark exists on what set of interventions can best contribute to redressing this disparities. This study draws attention to the low participation of female students in STEM disciplines and especially in hard sciences in Kenyan public universities. Some studies, at the global level do indicate closing of the gender gap in some of the STEM disciplines, while in others, there is a regression leading to gendered dimensions even within the STEM disciplines. This study was conceptualized to explore interventions that are being implemented to enable access and participation of female students in Kenyan public universities. The study conceptualized participation to include: initial enrolment, persistence through a course of study, completion and graduation. Literature review for the study did reveal the persistence of socio-cultural and institutional barriers in limiting female students from participating in STEM disciplines. Three theoretical models; Social constructionist, the pipeline and the deficit model guided this study and illuminate how society persistently pushes women to partake stereotypically feminine STEM disciplines. The study utilized a descriptive survey design. Data for the study were collected in three public universities that were purposively sampled. Questionnaires, interviews, observations, content and documentary analysis were used as key instruments for data collection. Data were analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively. The study findings revealed that, despite the existing educational gender interventions, female students’ enrolment and participation in STEM disciplines in the Kenyan public universities is 30% and less than 20% in hard sciences. The study also established that a continues process of gender typing of the school curriculum which the students pick from their high schools, and which continues to manifest in universities has created a false perception among female students that soft science marketable for the female gender and are feminine compared to the hard sciences. Existence of socio-cultural and institutional barriers affects female students’ participation in STEM disciplines. The study established that the following interventions if implemented at the institutions would enhance female participation in STEM disciplines. First, the government and universities need to develop educational STEM policies and interventions to increase female participation in STEM disciplines. Second, the STEM curricula should be made gender responsive with integration of additional STEM female faculty members to act as mentors to female students. Appropriate STEM mentoring and career guidance should be enhanced at all levels of education and all educational stakeholders should be involved in minimising socio-cultural, institutional barriers and stereotypes on masculinity of STEM disciplines.