Developing STEM education for marginalised groups in low-income communities

INITIATOR FUND 

Project period: January 2017 – May 2017 

GW4 community leads

University of Bath: Catherine Montgomery (PI)
University of Bristol: Justin Dillon 
Cardiff University: Jamie Lewis 
University of Exeter: Nasser Mansour 

Project overview

The aim of this project is to build a research community that will share knowledge, expertise and resources in research and engagement with STEM education in low income countries, particularly for girls and women and indigenous or rural populations in developing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas. 

Background 

STEM education is seen as an opportunity to develop industrialising economies with improved access to employment for young people and graduates. Advanced industrial countries have engaged in strong curriculum reform, adapting school practices to engage with problem solving, mathematics, and scientific thinking. 

However, issues of unequal access, approaches to pedagogy, limitations in resources and infrastructure mean that engagement with STEM education is a challenge in low income countries and ironically, this is where effective STEM education is most needed. 

Providing equal access to quality education is a global challenge. UNESCO has named improving quality education and reducing inequalities as two of its 17 sustainable development goals. In sub-Saharan Africa, secondary education is expanding rapidly and many disadvantaged rural communities have their first secondary school (e.g. Tanzania, Malawi). 

These are often poor quality though with very few students progressing from lower to upper secondary. Sciences in particular are challenged for shortage of qualified teachers and lab equipment for upper secondary. Hence, secondary education is a bottle neck for science specialists who face challenges in moving into health professions and teaching. 

The grant calls for GCRF have identified “inclusive and equitable quality education” as a priority theme. STEM education can enable science knowledge for the other 7 priority themes and this project addresses an intersection with the Sustainable Cities and Communities theme, presenting a community-focused approach to STEM education that develops capacity for scientifically informed responses to local development challenges (e.g. related to health, clean water supply, energy efficient cooking, small scale agriculture). 

Project summary 

The funding has enabled the development of a national and international community based around STEM as a tool to address marginalisation in low income communities. The GW4 funding has enabled the universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter and Cardiff to provide a national base for this research, joining pockets of established research and excellence in this area. From that base we have added international networks which is key to the GCRF research. Seminars brought the community together to explore STEM education as a key global challenge and construct research possibilities around the Global Challenges call. The aim was to promote long term sustainable growth in countries on the OECD Development Assistance Committee list through improved engagement with STEM education. Without this funding, neither the national or international network would have come together.