History Column

IEEE REACH/UNESCO Partnership: A New STEM Education Pathway that is Empowering Girls to Pursue STEM in Africa

By Kelly McKenna, IEEE REACH, and Maryanne Karamagi, Silver Bolt UG

IEEE REACH is an interdisciplinary, open education resource (OER) program of the IEEE History Center that provides free pre-university resources with a focus on the history of technology.  The program has created a new co-branding partnership with UNESCO that is inspiring students, engaging teachers and garnering significant stakeholder interest.

One of the 21st century skills students need to be responsible citizens is technological literacy.  Every aspect of the world we live in today is impacted by technology. “In order to be a technologically literate citizen, a person should understand what technology is, how it works, how it shapes society and in turn how society shapes it.” (ITEEA, 2000/2002) Yet many students fall below technological literacy proficiency levels.

While there are numerous STEM resource programs available that focus on what technology is and how it works, there are few that focus on the social and humanistic context of technology.  One of the best ways to teach these technological literacy skills is through the lens of history. History provides an opportunity to increase cultural awareness, and deepens our understanding of the world in which we live. History also provides a sense of identity. IEEE REACH is leading the way in this effort.  The program bridges the gap between Humanities and STEM by exploring the history of technology, its impact on society, and how society has influenced the evolution of technology. REACH’s goal is to improve all students’ technological and engineering literacy skills as necessary for college, career and civics — and to help them be responsible and informed citizens in today’s tech world. The REACH/UNESCO pilot program has also shown that REACH may also provide a new STEM education pathway, by engaging students through historical narratives.

The program provides full lesson plans that are researched and vetted by Ph.D. Historians. The plans include formative and summative performance tasks, excerpted documents, and civic actions, which make the material relevant to students’ lives today. They are designed in an inquiry format which encompasses engaging students through compelling questions and inquiry, using and evaluating evidence to answer questions and communicate answers, and participating in civic actions. Inquiries are supported by primary sources, short engaging student videos and hands-on activities.

All the program’s resources are available via the REACH website, and meet both U.S. and International education standards. These standards include, in the United States, the National Council for the Social Studies’ (NCSS) C3 (College, Career, and Civics) standards and the Social Studies Common Core standards, in addition to the Next Generation Science Standards. They also meet the International Technology and Engineering Educators Associations’ (ITEEA) Standards for Technology and Engineering Literacy (STEL).

As part of an IEEE Memorandum of Understanding with UNESCO, with assistance from IEEE’s Corporate Development, and support from the IEEE Africa Council and the Uganda Section, the IEEE REACH program has partnered with UNESCO on a co-branded pilot program that delivered REACH resources to students — predominantly girls — in Uganda, Africa.  Silver Bolt UG, a Uganda non-profit education organization, adapted the resources to meet Uganda’s National Curriculum Development Centre’s (NCDC)  standards based on a new curriculum modeled around 21st Century skills. The pilot was carried out at the Smart Girls Foundation, a non-profit, girl-centered development organization, and by way of a traveling classroom trailer that reached under-served communities. The program was delivered to both learners and teachers, and a deliberate effort was made to deliver the REACH resources to the girls and women in the Wakiso district, who had either not received or had attained lower levels of formal education.

As recommended by Uganda’s NCDC, all pedagogy was aimed at using the history of science, engineering and innovation to spark creativity, boost critical thinking, collaboration, teamwork, and communication. To meet the learners’ needs, the team contextualized and delivered the REACH resources based on the learners’ language, education levels and the communities in which they lived and studied.

The nature of the REACH resources allowed for high levels of contextualization and relevance by utilizing the inquiry design methodology of the program and applying the historical facts, and through implementing the performance tasks, and locally developed assessments. A “training of trainers” also took place, comprised of pre-service and in-service instructors, teachers and parents, and emphasized points of interest and application along both formal and informal curricula.

The diverse application of REACH enabled delivery of the resources to approximately 1,000 teachers and students with all learning engagements optional. There was a sustained attendance of 76%.  Fifty-two percent of the learners were above 18 years of age, and 48% were aged 12 to 18, with more than 75% being female learners. The program implementation achieved an average 16.2-point change in knowledge, with more than 72% finding the REACH topics relevant. Additionally, 76% were aware of the next steps they would take following the outreach.

Following the success of the REACH/UNESCO pilot, IEEE and Silver Bolt UG were invited to present at a UNESCO STEM mentorship workshop, supported by the Uganda National Commission for UNESCO and IEEE, and attended by educators and key stakeholders from both UNESCO and the Uganda Ministry of Education. The workshop’s goal was to equip Science teachers in the region with tools to realize improvements in participation by women and girls in STEM education. The teachers participated in IEEE REACH activities just as a student would. They walked away inspired, and with a new toolkit and STEM pathway for girls. As a result, the Uganda Ministry of Education is considering an expansion of the program to support the new national curriculum, and UNESCO is exploring exporting it elsewhere.

Kelly McKenna is REACH Program Manager at the IEEE History Center. For more articles by the History Center staff, visit their publications page at: https://ethw.org/Archives:Books_and_Archival_Publications or visit the IEEE History Center’s Web page at: https://www.ieee.org/about/history_center/index.html. The IEEE History Center is partially funded by donations to the History Fund of the IEEE Foundation.

Maryanne Karamagi is managing director of Silver Bolt UG, a Ugandan not-for-profit organization that educates and inspires youth to follow careers in science and engineering; empowers early career graduates and budding innovators to capably join the workforce; and works with professionals to nurture the next generation of engineering and computing professionals.


Kelly McKenna

Kelly McKenna is program manager for the IEEE REACH program.

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