In Ghana, there are several factors at play when it comes to young women’s participation in STEM professions, including gendered family norms, classroom dynamics, and the influence of policymaking which can simultaneously support and hinder access to STEM education.

In 2019, UNESCO reported that female researchers accounted for only 18.3% of STEM researchers in Ghana. This reflects the long-term impact of poor access to STEM education for women and girls and under-representation in STEM careers.

Those from rural regions are at a higher risk of being excluded from STEM education because of persistent poverty, a lack of mentorship, and few female role models. Meanwhile, school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic have further exacerbated access to quality STEM education.

To achieve equity, equality, and inclusion in STEM education there is a need to incorporate responsive gender pedagogy and creative teaching strategies in classrooms.

Highlighting everyday science

Ms. Cynthia Jebuni Adanu speaking

Ms. Cynthia Jebuni Adanu speaking

Between 1-10 February 2023, Commonwealth Alumnus Cynthia Jebuni-Adanu delivered multiple awareness-raising workshops in Ghana on ‘Developing STEM skills for girls in rural schools through indigenous-based practices’. The workshops aimed to help girls in rural Effutu, a district in central Ghana, develop STEM skills using indigenous practices and teach basic STEM concepts without laboratories, scientific equipment, or reagents.

Cynthia Jebuni-Adanu is an Assistant Lecturer at the Physics Education Department, University of Education, Winneba (UEW). She is a strong advocate for STEM and is passionate about using local resources to teach STEM to young girls.

The Effutu are indigenous settlers along the coastal belt of Ghana. Although their cultural practices are underpinned by scientific concepts, learning about science through their way of life has not been explored, which had led to a lack of awareness about STEM education, particularly among women and girls. This is further compounded by an absence of gender-responsive pedagogy in teaching practices more generally.

During the workshops, 20 STEM teachers and 100 girls from five junior high schools participated in a one-week training on gender responsive pedagogy in STEM education and the importance of integrating indigenous knowledge practices to improve STEM education.

In developing the workshop, Cynthia incorporated the knowledge she had acquired during her Commonwealth Professional Fellowship with UK-based charity the Lifegate Outreach Centre.

Supporting teachers and learners to achieve their best

Dr (Mrs). Charity Esenam Annor speaking

Dr (Mrs). Charity Esenam Annor. Lecturer, Chemistry Department and local organiser

Initially, Cynthia promoted the STEM skills workshop through a talk show on campus radio station Windy Bay to highlight the importance of STEM in girls’ education and the need to bridge the gender gap. The radio show was supported by lecturers at the University of Education Winneba (UEW) including Dr Peter Akayuure, Dr (Mrs) Charity Esenam Anor, Mrs Nelly Sekyi-Haggan, and Dr Rosemary Naana Kumi-Manu.

The workshops instructed teachers in how to incorporate indigenous practices and gender responsive pedagogy into STEM teaching. During the session, Cynthia highlighted some key examples of using indigenous knowledge to teach STEM concepts such as separation of mixture techniques, states and properties of matter, testing food substances, and identifying acidic properties and bases within the immediate environment.

Mrs. Nelly Sakyi-Hagan speaking.

Mrs. Nelly Sakyi-Hagan. Lecturer, Integrated Science Department, and local organiser

The teachers also received guidance on how to provide virtual mentoring to encourage girls to pursue practice-based STEM activities.

Following the workshop, the teachers piloted these new approaches to STEM teaching in their community and the feedback from the girls involved in the pilot showed that their understanding of scientific concepts in relation day-to-day life activities such as washing, cooking, food preservation, and traditional medicine increased.

Prof. Ruby Hanson speaking

Prof. Ruby Hanson. Former Dean, Faculty of Science

The workshop sessions were supported by following guest speakers and lecturers from UEW: Professor Ruby Hanson, Dorcas Attuabea Addo, Dr Charity Esenam Anor, Esther Nartey, Ninette Owusu-Adzorah, Nelly Sekyei-Hagan, Violet Eunice Danso, Karen Dedoo and Dr Peter Akayuuri.

As part of the sessions, the participating girls had an opportunity to meet female scientists and find out about their successes.

Marking International Day for Women and Girls in Science

Mrs. Ninette Owusu-Adzorah speaking

Mrs. Ninette Owusu-Adzorah. Lecturer, Biology Department

On 10 February, Cynthia organised a platform event for communities to discuss ideas as part of celebrations for the UN International Day for Women and Girls in Science. Leaders and women in the community attended the event, which included an exhibition by the girls who had participated in the STEM workshops. The exhibition actualised many of the STEM concepts that the workshop participants had learned through everyday activities that take place in their community.

During the event, community members were informed about tailoring education and creating an appropriate home environment to encourage girls to take up STEM subjects. The event also provided community members with a grounding in the scientific concepts behind food preparation and creating local medicines to support learning in the home.

Creating a sustainable outcome

Mrs. Keren Dedoo speaking

Mrs. Keren Dedoo. Municipal STEM coordinator

Following the workshop intervention, Cynthia has launched STEM clubs in the five participating primacy schools with the aim of continuing regular STEM education for girls. The STEM clubs will provide an opportunity for teachers to mentor girls and practise gender responsive pedagogy teaching methods.

Cynthia and her colleagues from UEW will also support the scaling up of efforts to develop STEM skills amongst young girls in other communities and ensure teachers have the adequate training in how to apply context-specific teaching methods.

Cynthia Jebuni-Adanu is a 2021 Commonwealth Professional Fellow from Ghana. She completed her Fellowship with Lifegate Outreach Centre.