New lab facilities in Uganda break down barriers for refugee girls in science – Uganda

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Starting in high school, girls are less likely than boys to pursue science studies, resulting in women being underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) occupations around the world.

Due to the particular conditions of displacement, refugee girls face compounding obstacles when trying to access learning opportunities, including science. Among these, the lack of safe educational spaces and poor school infrastructure further exacerbate the vulnerability of refugee girls to poverty, early and forced marriage and pregnancy, as well as harmful socio-cultural attitudes and norms.

To advance the inclusion of girls and the overall quality of education in the region, JRS increased and improved secondary school infrastructure in Adjumani District, Uganda. As part of this effort, a science lab was built last year at the Pagirinya refugee camp secondary school.

The new laboratory has two rooms and a capacity of 80 places. It is equipped with tanks of water, gas, chemical reagents and all the equipment necessary to carry out experiments. “The laboratory will improve the teaching of science subjects in school. When you teach theoretically, it is difficult for students to grasp the lessons. Now we are using the real device and not just drawings,” says the head of the department of science Icha Augustine.

The lab will be used for agriculture, physics, biology and chemistry classes and will allow students, including more than 250 girls, to gain hands-on experience in STEM subjects. Previously, students could only take practical classes on weekends. They traveled more than 18 kilometers to Dzaipi secondary school, at an additional cost for the school and the families.

Head Teacher Okot Mathew Thomas says the lab is the answer to their prayers and thinks it will raise the level of the school: “The lab brings us more blessings. We are excited because the school will finally get a [examination] center number. Having a laboratory is one of the conditions.”

Once the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) gives its approval, students can take the final exams at Pagirinya. In addition, the school may offer advanced science courses (A level) to students who complete the regular class (O level).

In collaboration with the science laboratory, JRS also built dormitories and latrines for girls at the Pagirinya and Mungula secondary school, located in another refugee camp in the district. These facilities will increase privacy and security, especially for girls, and provide safer learning spaces for all students.

The project is part of JRS’ commitment to gender-responsive programming in education (GRE), specifically to increase access to and completion of secondary education. A gender-responsive approach to education means that JRS considers gender norms, roles, relationships and differences in opportunity, and targets gender-based barriers to achieve more equitable and just educational outcomes between girls and boys.

Ultimately, by increasing girls’ access to quality education, gender-sensitive approaches benefit everyone. When girls graduate from high school, they develop leadership skills, become income generators, and develop self-reliance. When girls are given the opportunity to realize their potential, they contribute to the well-being of their families and communities.

Improving school infrastructure in Uganda has been made possible through the generosity of our donors: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Loyola Foundation and Irish Jesuits International. Other donors supporting a comprehensive Gender Responsive Education (GRE) program in Uganda’s West Nile region include the Fidel Götz Foundation and several private donors.

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