By Elizabeth Ampairwe.
Results of the 2020 Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE) examinations released in August made for frustrating reading from the perspective of the advancement of the girl-child.
From the results, there were 56,440 male and 40,782 female candidates meaning that there was 15,658 more male than female candidates who sat the exams. This statistic is, in and of itself, a damning indictment on the struggle for the attainment of gender equality in the critical aspect of education.
What is particularly worrying is that the performance of girls in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is still glaringly poor. Of the 2020 UACE candidates, only 26.7 percent females sat for Mathematics, 6.9 percent for Physics, 13.2 percent for Chemistry, and 12.3 percent for Biology.
Female candidates performed better than their male counterparts at the principal level pass (A-E) in Arts (Humanities), Mathematics, and Physics. Male candidates were better in Agriculture, Chemistry, Biology, Art, and General Paper.
Other subjects in which the percentage of female candidates who passed with As being higher than that of their male counterparts are History, Entrepreneurship, Education, Christian Religious Education, and Geography. These are all Humanities.
For us at the Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE), the failure of the government to put in place a conducive environment to enable the girl-child to progress in uptake of science courses is particularly concerning. It is in the nation’s best interest that there is gender equality in all areas of life.
Our vision is to have a country where there is equality of opportunity and participation for both boys and girls; an objective that cannot be achieved when the latter is being left behind in the uptake of science courses at “A” Level and University.
Uganda is a signatory to many global frameworks that emphasize equal access to quality education including; the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Sustainable Development Goals.
It is, therefore, disturbing that even with such binding conventions, the government has failed to put in place systems to support the education of the girl-child, especially in science courses.
What is clear is that gender stereotyping still permeates our education system where some subjects-especially science subjects, are considered masculine while Arts subjects are considered feminine.
Most importantly, the government and all other stakeholders should take a keen interest in the gender imbalance in science enrolment beyond the compulsory level because it can have negative implications for the quality of life of the girl-child and socio-economic transformation.
As a solution, the government should lower the admission points at which girls are enrolled for science courses compared to boys. Article 32 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda provides that, “the state shall take affirmative action in favor of groups marginalized based on gender, age, disability or any other reason created by history, tradition or custom, to redress imbalances which exist against them.” It follows, therefore, that our constitutional dispensation, alive to the unique challenges girls face, places a duty on the state to put in place concrete measures to address the kind of challenges we see in the education sector as exemplified by the results.
The government must put in place interventions that empower the girl child to venture into the field of science. Girls must be motivated to have an interest in science courses right from the primary school level.
Government should explore the option of affirmative action for girls studying sciences at tertiary and lower institutions of learning. In addition to the 1.5 bonus points offered to girls joining public universities, the admission points for girls offering sciences at University should be lowered compared to that of boys.
Government has to ensure that the unique demands of girls are taken care of, for them to naturally take on science courses. The government should address concerns around a sexist curricula and syllabi, teaching material, and sexist language in tutoring.
There must be a deliberate effort by the government to banish long-standing gender stereotypes around science courses. Clearly, without girls attaining quality education in the field of sciences, attainment of the much-touted middle-income status will remain a pipe dream for our country.
The writer, Elizabeth Ampairwe is the Director of Programs at the Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE).
A version of this article was published by www.pmdaily.com on 31st August 2021