Rwanda: Bridging the Gender Gap - Starlight Africa's Launch of Stem Clubs

20 September 2023

More than 200 girls pursuing science combinations in high school gathered on July 7 to participate in the STEM clubs launch event organised by Starlight Africa.

The students represented four high schools across Muhanga and Ruhango districts, namely: Groupe Scolaire Notre Dame de Lourdes, Groupe Scolaire Saint Joseph Kabgayi, College Saint Jean Nyarusange, and Kigoma Secondary School.

These girls are currently engaged in the Step into STEM programme, an enrichment initiative of Starlight Africa in collaboration with the Mastercard Foundation. Aligning to the Mastercard Foundation's Young Africa Works strategy, which aims to enable 300,000 Rwandan youth, particularly young women, access dignified and fulfilling work by 2030; the programme aims to equip young girls with foundational skills and knowledge required to excel in the dynamic world of STEM, offering a prominent pathway towards impactful STEM careers.

The girls had completed an intensive two-month training, and the purpose of the gathering was twofold: to reflect on their journey so far in the 'Step Into STEM' programme and to plan for the holidays.

The event encompassed various engaging activities, providing a platform for the girls to showcase their skills and discuss diverse ways in which they aspire to apply them.

One highlight of the event was a play presented by the students, illustrating the power of collaboration. Dividing themselves into three groups, two acted as a tech company seeking investors for a flagship phone, while the third group portrayed the investors.

Through this performance, the importance of teamwork and valuing diverse perspectives became evident. The group that fostered an inclusive and collaborative working environment excelled and secured funding.

This served as a valuable lesson on the power of collaboration and listening to others' ideas.

The event also featured a panel discussion, bringing together students, teachers, and Starlight Africa staff. The discussion focused on how the 'Step Into STEM' programme could be further enhanced.

The students expressed interest in STEM camps during holidays and the need for tech-enabled platforms to continue expanding their knowledge even outside the classroom.

Ariane Umuringa, co-founder and managing director of Starlight Africa, highlighted the significant drop in STEM enrollment between high school and university, particularly among girls, and emphasised the importance of continued engagement and support during this critical phase of career decision-making.

Teachers praised the 'Step Into STEM' programme for its transformative effects. Jean Damascene Hategekimana, a chemistry teacher at Groupe Scolaire Notre Dame de Lourdes Byimana, acknowledged the remarkable improvements he witnessed among the participating girls.

He cited enhanced public speaking skills, project development, and their ability to apply knowledge in creating academic papers.

"The programme has not only eliminated boundaries but also influenced the girls wishing to pursue STEM programmes in university," he said.

Students emphasised the programme's positive impact. Aime Peace Kenny Ineza, a physics, chemistry, and biology student, expressed gratitude for the programme's teachings on cryptography and exposure to various opportunities in these fields.

Parcella Ujeneza, a mathematics, computer science, and economics student, found inspiration in the programme's emphasis on innovation and technology, fuelling her aspiration to pursue a tech-related career and contribute to the health sector through technological innovation.

Ariana Akeza, studying physics, chemistry, and biology, credited the programme for helping her overcome procrastination, improving her public speaking skills, and nurturing her ambition to become a midwife or obstetrician while also addressing postpartum depression through innovative solutions.

Starlight Africa is a social enterprise dedicated to empowering girls through experiential STEM learning, career enlightenment, design thinking, and innovation. With a focus on awareness and connection to great job opportunities, their programmes build confidence and inspire girls to make meaningful contributions in the STEM field.

With a seven-year track record, Starlight Africa has been creating initiatives that bring about positive change in the lives of young girls pursuing STEM education.

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