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THIRD TIME’S A CHARM: Tanzania makes up lost time in science, tech, engineering, mathematics

The East African resource-rich country is attempting to bridge its yawning gender gap in science, technology and innovation.

WEDNESDAY February 14, 2024

Professor Adolf Mkenda, the Tanzania’s Minister for Education, Science and Technology, shares a light moment with beneficiaries of Samia Scholarship in a past event. PHOTO | MWANANCHI

By Patty Magubira

The Tranquility News Reporter, Arusha

The Tanzania government is, in collaboration with players, taking various measures to bridge gender gap in science, technology and innovation.

On average, girls were only 25,500 out of 64,800 students admitted to universities countrywide to pursue scientific degree courses in 2022/23, equivalent to 39 per cent.

As the country celebrated the International Day of Women and Girls in Science recently, available statistics indicates only 12 per cent of Tanzanian women are in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) leadership.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said during the commemoration in Arusha, Tanzania, that one of the measures it targets included increasing the number of schoolgirls in pursuit of STEM subjects from primary to university levels.

Another intervention is giving the subjects high priority when issuing higher education students’ loans, meaning a student pursuing any of the subjects stands high chance of securing a loan.

“The colonialists outmatched us, we were equipped with spears, they had riffle. We used boats, they brought in big ships,” Prof Adolf Mkenda, the Tanzania’s Minister for Education, Science and Technology.

“We are far behind in STEM, we have to prioritise these fields to strike a balance,” Prof Adolf Mkenda, the Minister for Education, Science and Technology, said.

Establishing scholarships was another measure being taken, he said, citing the ministry’s Samia Scholarships and the Edinburg University’s Julius Nyerere Scholarships, among others.

Samia Scholarships, the brainchild of the country’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan, aims at encouraging bright students to pursue STEM subjects.

Forty per cent of students who have so far secured the Samia Scholarships are girls.

A student pursuing any of the STEM subjects excels to become one of the top 600 and is admitted to a university applies for the scholarship to the Permanent Secretary’s Office in the ministry with which a contract will be penned.

“There is only one condition, if the student gets below GPA 3.8, we will transfer her to the higher learning students’ loans arrangement,” explained Prof Mkenda.

The Tanzania’s Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Prof James Mdoe, stresses a point to management and staff of Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro Region in a past event. PHOTO | SUA

Moreover, the government will for the first time in the sands of time award a researcher in STEM $20,000 once the work is published in one of the global journals.

“This is a small step for human being, but a giant one for development of scientific landscape in the country,” said Prof Mkenda, demystifying that the goal was not to discourage local journals but rather to internationalise the local researchers.

The government is also asking for inputs from players to revisit its science, technology and innovation policy.

Prof Mkenda said Tanzania was colonised for lack of science and technology, warning that the country would be colonised economically should it stoop so low as to revere investors foreign instead.

“The colonialists outmatched us, we were equipped with spears, they had riffle. We used boats, they brought in big ships,” he quipped.

Nkruma Hall at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The country’s first higher learning institution is said to have been designed for boys, as its premises accommodated few girls only. PHOTO | UDSM

He said the ministry was also doing all what it took to prevent girls from being harassed at schools, including secretly investigating their complaints and taking punitive measures against the accused if the claims are found to hold water.

According to Prof Juma Mkomi, the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, commemoration of the day dates back to 2021 in the country when Vijana Think Tank first organised it, with former Tanzania’s vice president and incumber President Samia gracing it.

President Samia highlighted the need for promoting the women and girls in STEM movement to build a robust foundation for them to become innovators.

This year, the ministry in collaboration with various players held national, zonal and institutional-level debates both virtually and physically, involving key speakers from as far as Kenya and South Africa.

Professor Verdiana Masanja, a mathematics pundit from Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) based in Arusha, Tanzania, was the key speaker during the main debate.

The ministry will ensure encouraging women and girls to pursue STEM subjects is a continuous practice,” Prof James Mdoe, the Tanzania’s Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.

The theme of the debate in which Prof Mkenda took part was The Tanzania We Want and the Future of Women and Girls in STEM Leadership in bringing about Sustainable Development.

“The ministry will ensure encouraging women and girls to pursue STEM subjects is a continuous practice,” Prof Mkomi vowed.

Girls had been left behind in secondary and university education for half a century in Tanzania, a country with barely 59 secondary schools, 36 for boys, 12 for girls and 11 for both girls and boys in 1965.

“Boys’ schools date back to 1904 as opposed to girls’ schools established in 1957,” says Prof Masanja, adding that the country’s sole University of Dar es Salaam then was by design also meant for boys, with an intake accommodating hardly 12 girls out of 300 students.

However, positive developments in recent years have been breaking down barriers and creating pathways for women and girls to thrive in STEM and to contribute to sustainable development of the country.

Prof Verdiana Massanja, a mathematics specialist from Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology based in Arusha, Tanzania, says digital technologies can benefit women especially balancing work and family duties. PHOTO | TGNP

“As we embrace opportunities that come with technologies, it is crucial to ensure women and girls do not just become consumers, but active contributors and leaders in shaping the landscape of technology,” Prof Masanja insisted.

She underlined the need for profiling the country’s young female pioneers in internet of things and artificial intelligence to inspire others to pursue carriers in STEM leadership.

By embracing technologies, African women have the potential for playing key roles in molding the future of their communities, contributing to economic growth and addressing society’s challenges.

“The digital nature of the technologies allows remote working and provides flexibility that can benefit women, especially in balancing work and family responsibilities,” Prof Masanja observed.

Nonetheless, consequences of both girls and boys disliking mathematics included the nation lacking upper hand and remaining poor users of the fourth industrial technologies, warned Prof Masanja, explaining:

“Mathematics serves as a language for computation and analysis, providing theoretical foundation for development and applications of the fourth industrial technologies.”Ω

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