Starting from secondary school, girls are less likely than boys to pursue scientific subjects, leading to women being underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) occupations all over the world.
Due to the peculiar conditions of displacement, refugee girls face compounding barriers when trying to access learning opportunities, including scientific ones. Among these, lack of safe educational spaces and inadequate school infrastructure further exacerbate refugee girls’ vulnerability to poverty, early and forced marriage, and pregnancy, as well as damaging socio-cultural attitudes and norms.
To advance girls’ inclusion and the overall quality of education in the region, JRS has been increasing and improving secondary school infrastructure in the Adjumani district, Uganda. As part of this effort, a science laboratory was built last year at the Secondary School in the Pagirinya refugee settlement.
The new lab has two rooms and a capacity of 80 seats. It is equipped with water tanks, gas, chemical reagents, and all necessary equipment to carry out experiments. “The laboratory will enhance the teaching of science subjects in the school. When you teach theoretically, it is hard for the students to grasp the lessons. Now we use the real apparatus and not just drawings,” Head of Science Department Icha Augustine explains.
The laboratory will be used for Agriculture, Physics, Biology, and Chemistry classes and will allow students, including more than 250 girls, to get hands-on experience of STEM subjects. Before, students could only engage in practical lessons over the weekend. They travelled over 18 kilometers to Dzaipi Secondary School, at an extra cost to both school and families.
Head Teacher Okot Mathew Thomas says the laboratory is the answer to their prayers and believes it will uplift the standard of the school: “The laboratory is bringing us more blessings. We are excited because the school is finally going to get an [examination] center number. Having a laboratory is one of the conditions.”
The newly-built laboratory in Pagirinya Secondary School has been in operation since January 2022.
Once the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) gives its approval, students will be able to take final exams in Pagirinya. Furthermore, the school will be able to offer advanced science classes (A level) to students who complete the ordinary class (O level).
Together with the science lab, JRS also built girls’ dormitories and latrines at Pagirinya and Mungula Secondary School – located in another refugee settlement in the district. These facilities will increase privacy and security, particularly for girls, and provide all students with safer spaces to learn.
The project is part of JRS’s commitment to gender-responsiveness in education (GRE) programming, specifically to increase access and completion of secondary education. A gender-responsive approach to education means that JRS consider gender norms, roles, relationships, and differences in opportunities, and targets gender-based barriers to achieve more equitable and just education outcomes between girls and boys.
Ultimately, by increasing girls’ access to quality education, gender-responsive approaches benefit all. When girls complete secondary education they develop leadership skills, become income generators, and build self-reliance. When girls are given the opportunity to fulfill their potential, they contribute to the well-being of their families and communities.
Improvement of school infrastructure in Uganda was made possible by the generosity of our donors: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint Charities, Loyola Foundation, and the Irish Jesuits International. Other donors supporting comprehensive gender-responsive education (GRE) programming in the West Nile Region of Uganda include the Fidel Götz Foundation and several private donors.