Policy alternatives needed to bridge gender gap for science courses

Monday February 6 2012

Students of St. Joseph’s Girls School Nsambya during a science fair. One of the major obstacles that have limited girls’ interest in science subjects is the false belief that sciences are too difficult for them.

Students of St. Joseph’s Girls School Nsambya during a science fair. One of the major obstacles that have limited girls’ interest in science subjects is the false belief that sciences are too difficult for them. FILE PHOTO  

By Patrick Ajuna

Gender disparity in education in Uganda has for long been one of the major issues. A number of investigative studies have revealed major disparities especially in higher education and have called for action to address the disparities.

From early on, government sought to address the gender disparity in education as part of the broader women emancipation campaign introducing a bonus 1.5 points to university entry to boost their chances in 1990.

Also, in 2001, the Female Scholarship Initiative (FSI), a partnership between Carnegie Corporation and Makerere University, was introduced. Its major aim was to support the poor female students who qualified for private sponsorship at the University but could not afford to pay. The scheme was implemented for 10 years (from 2001-2010) and mainly targeted science students.

These policies were effective in arts courses as the general enrolments for female and male students at Makerere University is almost equal as evidenced by the number of graduates by sex in the 60th and 61st graduation ceremonies for those who were awarded degrees and diplomas that is, 51.7 per cent (6,415) females compared to 48.3 per cent (5,988) their male counterparts in the 60th graduation in January 2010. For the 61st graduation early 2011, female students constituted 50.1 per cent (6,051) compared to 49.9 per cent (6,036) males.

However, for science courses, the situation is different. The data for the 61st graduation for the same institution early last year reveals that the gender gap in science courses is still wide. For example, for Bachelor of Architecture, female students constituted 22 per cent, Civil Engineering 17 per cent, Electrical Engineering 29 percent, Mechanical Engineering 11 per cent, Pharmacy 30 per cent, Medicine and Surgery 31 per cent, BSc with Education 26 per cent, Telecommunication Engineering 19 per cent, Technology 37 per cent, and BSc with Agriculture 27 per cent.

For the 62nd graduation, which started on Monday 16, 2012, female students’ representation in sciences was as follows; Bsc. Dental Surgery 13 per cent, Pharmacy 37 per cent, Architecture 25 per cent, Medicine and Surgery 38 per cent, Civil Engineering 14 per cent, Electrical Engineering 22 percent, Mechanical Engineering 9 per cent, Bsc Agriculture 19 per cent, Surveying 18 per cent, Bsc with Education 14 per cent among others.

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For such a long period of implementing the 1.5 Bonus Points Policy (21 years) coupled with the 10 years of implementing the Female Scholarship Initiative Scheme (FSI) which was mainly science based (70 per cent of the scholarship was given to girls offering sciences) without achieving the intended target means there is need for alternative policies if meaningful achievements are to be registered. This may necessitate implementing the redistributive policies such that resources are reallocated to secondary level where the problem stems from. Since few students do science combinations at A-level, of which female students form a small percentage, it results into low number of those who pass to join the University to do sciences.

According to Unesco (1998), low enrollment of girls for science subjects is attributed to the fact that teachers, parents and society at large usually use remarks which are both belittling and offensive to girls in regard to sciences. Because science is considered a boy’s preserve, girls who venture to study it often find themselves in a hostile male environment which creates a distasteful attitude to science.

In view of this, there is need launch a serious campaign to improve female students’ perception of sciences, nurture a culture in them of embracing sciences at lower educational levels so that this undesirable bias can be eliminated. It is through this way that meaningful gains can be registered in bridging the gender gap.

editorial@ug.nationmedia.com

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