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Grade 10 Girls’ Experiences in Choosing STEM Subjects in Rakwadu Circuit, South Africa

Written By

Israel Kibirige and Shapule Edith Modjadji

Submitted: November 22nd, 2021 Reviewed: January 6th, 2022 Published: March 17th, 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.102518

IntechOpen
Advances in Research in STEM Education Edited by Michail Kalogiannakis

From the Edited Volume

Advances in Research in STEM Education [Working Title]

Associate Prof. Michail Kalogiannakis and Dr. Maria Ampartzaki

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Abstract

The lopsided participation of females in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professions is an issue of global concern. Very few girls choose to study sciences in secondary schools in South Africa. Understanding girls’ experiences in choosing science subjects may assist various education stakeholders to ensure that their roles motivate more girls to choose sciences. This study explored grade 10 girls’ experiences in choosing STEM subjects. A case study was designed using 10 girls out of 145 who had chosen to study STEM subjects from three secondary schools in Limpopo Province, South Africa. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews and were analyzed thematically. Five themes emerged regarding Grade 10 girls’ experiences in choosing to study STEM subjects—self-determination, anticipated value, the class environment, home influence, and social influence. Parental guidance of “girl-child” was very limited. The findings highlight that many girls in rural schools in Limpopo did not choose STEM subjects in Grade 10. These findings have far-reaching implications for all education stakeholders in the country and beyond.

Keywords

  • motivation
  • support
  • gender
  • self-determination
  • performance

1. Introduction

For years, countries have been concerned with the number of female students studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects in secondary schools [1]. To study STEM, learners need to study physical science, which includes physics and chemistry. Learners who study physical science are encouraged to take mathematics and technology at high school as part of STEM subjects. There are worldwide initiatives to enhance learners’ interest in STEM subjects [2], yet few girls choose to study sciences [3, 4]. Even though boys and girls have equal opportunities to study physical science, there are gender differences that influence subject choices in secondary schools and ultimately STEM careers. Although motivation in schools is important, it is often overlooked [5], and the factors that motivate girls to study physical science are not well studied and remain an area of concern [6, 7].

In South Africa, all subjects in Grades 7 to 9 are compulsory, including natural science, which incorporates physical science, life sciences, and earth sciences [8]. In Grade 10, learners choose subjects they wish to pursue up to Grade 12. It is a stage that defines the path toward STEM careers they want to pursue [4]. King and Glackin in their study [9] have shown that most students develop interest and attitudes toward STEM subjects at the age of 14. As a result, exposure to STEM subjects at this age may be crucial in shaping attitudes and interests. Researchers during teaching practice sessions noticed a very small number of girls studying physical science, which henceforth is referred to as STEM subjects, for Grade 10. The first author, a STEM teacher and a lady, was concerned with the few girls to study physical science. Girls do not choose physical science, and this alienates them from STEM careers. Once they decide not to choose physical science in secondary school, it may be difficult for them to enter a STEM degree in tertiary institutions [10]. It is no wonder the low participation of girls and women in STEM is a never-ending story [6].

Although total enrolment of girls in schools has increased [11], fewer girls than boys choose physical science in South African secondary schools [12]. This low enrolment in physical science can be partly explained by the girls’ poor performance in sciences. The trends in mathematics and science study (TIMMS) [13] show that girls’ science performance was poor [13], and this situation has not improved. Bottia et al. [14] attributed the poor performance to girls’ attitudes, interests and while Tzu-Ling [15] attributed it to motivation toward STEM subjects. Studies suggest a lack of role models [16, 17], lack of information about STEM [18], females’ lack of confidence in sciences [19], and the lifestyles related to gender [20]. Also, a few women scientists can encourage girls to study STEM subjects [21]. Finally, the low numbers of girls studying STEM subjects ultimately result in few females in STEM careers [22, 23]. One wonders what could be the challenges. How can those challenges be overcome? It was envisaged that understanding girls’ experiences in STEM subjects in secondary schools could shed light on the surrounding challenges for stakeholders to identify possible solutions [1]. In South Africa, culture and the environment influence girls’ choices of subjects to study. Secondary school learners in their teens show gender differences in their behaviors [23, 24] and choices. It is most likely that these differences in masculinity and femininity manifest where more boys than girls choose STEM subjects, thus sustaining the hegemony of male stereotypes [25, 26, 27]. Sekuła et al. [28] contend that females in STEM are like strangers or intruders of the male-dominated terrain. While numerous studies have identified factors that affect girls’ decisions to pursue STEM subjects [15, 29, 30, 31], the findings have not been exhaustive, and some factors may be context-specific. Girls’ experiences in choosing and learning STEM subjects in rural areas of South Africa are unknown. There is no published work on South African Grade 10 girls’ experiences regarding choosing STEM subjects. The study explored Grade 10 girls’ experiences of choosing physical science (a STEM subject) to narrow this gap. To achieve the above purpose, the research posed the following question—What are the experiences of girls in studying STEM in rural secondary schools of Limpopo, South Africa? Also, there were probe questions—What attracted you to choose science? What help did you get from your parents? Do you have a STEM female role model in your school or community? What career do you like to take? What challenges do you experience when studying science?.

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2. Literature review and theoretical framework

STEM subjects are fundamental for developing national economies, yet the performance in mathematics and sciences that lead to STEM has been poor for the South African learners [32]. The situation is worse for the secondary school girls who perform poorly in STEM and do not choose the subject. In addition, girls who perform better in science do not choose STEM subjects, hence causing a leakage of girls leaving STEM [33].

2.1 Gender disparities in STEM

Gender differences continue to exist in participation in STEM subjects (Catalyst, 2019), where many girls do not choose STEM subjects due to negative attitudes toward the subjects [23, 25]. Comparatively, boys show more positive attitudes toward science than girls [15]. The gender disparity contrasts the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG-4), which requires that all boys and girls be at the same level in accessing quality primary and secondary education by 2030 [34]. Judging from the current state of affairs in education, this may not be achieved. Furthermore, the SDG-5 necessitates gender equality to empower all girls and women in the education sector. As suggested by Kind et al. [35], gender disparity in STEM can be attributed to attitudes toward science demonstrated through seven tenets—(a) learning science in school, (b) practical work in science, (c) science outside of school, (d) importance of science, (e) self-concept in science, (f) future participation in science, and (g) combined interest in science. A study conducted in South Africa found that boys were more interested in studying STEM subjects than girls [36]. In addition, the choosing of STEM subjects may be attributed to cultural and social factors, school science curriculum, or people’s perceptions toward STEM subjects [37]. The gender disparity in STEM is a multi-faceted issue that needs all stakeholders to work together to change the gender gap in STEM subjects at the secondary school level and indeed at all other levels of education. It is no wonder it involves two worlds. First, the private and the public. The private comprise families and the educational institutions that enhance skills and knowledge. Subtly, it is a place where perceptions regarding traditional gender roles are strengthened. Second, the public domain comprises the workplace, which unfortunately encourages male–female gender roles [38].

2.2 Learners’ performance in STEM

Learners’ poor performance is a persistent challenge in Limpopo, South Africa [24, 39]. Although the number of girls in physical science has increased in recent years [11], the number of girls choosing physical science in South African secondary schools is far less than the number of boys [12], and indeed both in developed and less developed countries [40]. The low percentage suggests that most girls are not motivated enough to study science subjects, resulting in poor performances [41, 42, 43, 44]. Conversely, Stoet and Geary [45] show that boys and girls perform equally well in STEM subjects. Notwithstanding motivation and good grades, girls may not choose STEM subjects due to personal (micro-level), family and societal (mezo-level), and cosmopolitan culture (macro-level) reasons [45]. These three cover all spheres of a learner and spill in the careers aspirations. For example, apart from personal issues, family and institutional differences exist. Some families are more inclined to study STEM subjects than others [46], although this may vary from context to contest [47]. Studies in the United States of America (USA) support that family differences exist. For example, if a girl is first or last born in the family has different results as far as STEM subjects are concerned. The treatments children receive in the family have a bearing on their performance in school subjects. Hence, the position of the siblings and parental preferential treatments have an impact on STEM performances.

2.3 Learner enrolment

The unequal participation of girls in STEM subjects has remained a global challenge. In France, girls constitute 44.2% of physical science learners [46]. In the United States of America, the Girls, Mathematics and Science Partnership (GMSP) handled matters dealing with girls’ participation in science [48]. Similarly, in Malawi, Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa, there are gender disparities regarding learners’ participation in scientific and technological subjects [49]. In Africa, 22% of girls attend secondary school and only 10% of the 22% study science [50]. This implies few girls study sciences and few could enroll in universities and take careers in STEM [22].

2.4 Factors influencing girls’ choices of science subjects

Considerable literature has been published on factors influencing girls not to choose science subjects. The factors include lack of role models [51, 52, 53, 54], lack of information about sciences, and scientific careers for learners in rural areas [55, 56]. Girls’ lack of personal efficacy in science careers [57, 58, 59] attests that female role models can inspire girls to develop an interest in science careers.

Although countries differ in their social and economic status, they all experience gender differences. These differences are stratified in all levels of growth and development. In this study, the researchers focused on secondary schools. They are adolescents who are soon to leave childhood and join adulthood. Learners at this level are at crossroads. They require guidance in the now and the future choices. The researchers are reminded of the type of education that is offered. It is narrow and does not cater to the present and the future. It does not deal with the whole body, mind, dimensions and spiritual [60]. It implies that the narrowness of mind may influence girls’ choices in STEM. Other factors include gender stereotypes content and teaching styles that elevate males over females [27, 61, 62]; differences in aspiration where many boys aspire and choose STEM subjects because few girls choose STEM subjects; teaching methods that favor boys and not girls [63, 64]; individual beliefs and family friends [45, 65]; school subject environment [27], and future career aspirations [15]. In summary, these factors are on three levels—a personal (micro), a family, school and friends (mezo), and cosmopolitan or ambient culture (macro).

2.5 Theoretical framework and learner experiences in STEM

Two theories guided the study—1) the Social Cognitive Theory (SCT), [66], and 2) the Situated Expectancy-Value Theory (SEVT) [67]. SCT describes self-efficacy, outcome expectancies, and goals constructs [67, 68]. It is a triadic model comprising three tenets—reciprocal causation, individuals as actors, and environmental products. Thus, SCT describes behavioral changes that an individual makes. The girls’ experiences reflect a behavioral change to study STEM in this study.

The Situated Expectancy Value Theory (SEVT) [69] extends the work of Eccles [70] in dealing with choice making. SEVT has five key elements, which are as follows:

  1. Individuals are motivated by achievement-related choices,

  2. Proximal social cognitive aspects and dealing with within and between individual decision making is based on experiences.

  3. Individuals’ experiences and interpretation of experiences guide their choices,

  4. Social and experiential, the cognitive, affective, and behavioral components influence individuals choice,

  5. Choices are limited by prior experiences, cultural values, norms, and individuals’ characteristics. In choice-making, SEVT is robust because it is situation-specific and based on cultural norms.

Girls’ choices to study STEM subjects in South Africa are guided by various factors, including the situation and the culture, to relate their experiences regarding STEM. Thus, these two theories were selected because they deal with the individual’s situated environment that guides behavioral changes. In their teens, high school learners are showing gender differences in their behaviors [23, 24]. It is most likely that these differences in masculinity and femininity manifest in the subject choices where more boys than girls choose physical science, thus, sustaining the hegemony of male stereotypes. Girls’ experiences in choosing and learning STEM subjects in rural areas of South Africa are scanty. Therefore, this study contributes to understanding girls’ experience in choosing STEM, which could interest politicians, researchers, academics, and education stakeholders to ameliorate the situation.

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3. Methodology

3.1 Design

This study utilized an exploratory case study design to investigate Grade 10 girls’ experiences in choosing to study STEM subjects. According to Cohen et al., [71], a case study is beneficial because it draws data from people’s experiences and practices. A purposive sample [72] of 10 Grade 10 girls (age 14–16) from three schools in Rakwadu Circuit, South Africa, was used based on their choices to study STEM subjects.

3.2 Sample

Grade 10 girls from three schools, A, B, and C (4, 3, and 3) were selected. Learners one to four from school A were coded as L1A to L4A, learners one to three from school B were coded as L1B to L3B, and learners one to three from school C were coded as L1C to L3C. The three schools had 216 learners in grade 10, 145 were girls, and only 10 chose to study physical science. In this case, only 10 girls chose to study STEM subjects leaving out most of them (135) to study other subjects. For ethical considerations, all minor participants were issued with consent letters to be signed by their parents/guardians to allow their children to take part in the study. Permissions were granted from schools, the Circuit Education office, and the University of Limpopo Research Ethics Committee.

3.3 Data collection

Data were collected through semi-structured interviews. Semi-structured interviews [72] were used because they offered the interviewer a chance for in-depth discussions, follow-ups, and probing questions to clarify the responses [73]. All interviews were audio-taped, and each interview lasted for one hour, which was enough without causing fatigue to the learners [71]. Harm was avoided by explaining that the study had no impact on their academic performance and that learners could at any time withdraw from the interviews [74, 75]. Member check was performed with the participants to ensure that the captured information correctly reflected their views [76].

3.4 Data analysis

Data from the interviews were analyzed thematically to provide descriptions of the findings [44, 77]. The thematic analysis process involved identifying patterns across data sets that were important in describing a phenomenon associated with the research questions [78]. The interviews were transcribed verbatim, and the transcripts were read line by line several times to gain insights into the participants’ responses. The researchers generated a codebook to make themes based on the theories and collected data [79, 80]. In theory-based, two researchers and one expert coded the data and compared codes. All three researchers used similar codes to form categories, and the last categories were organized into themes [81]. Where there were disagreements, a consensus was reached using the inter-observation agreement [82] formula, where agreements were divided by the sum of agreements and disagreements. The product was multiplied by 100%, and a value of 90% was appropriate for this study. Thus, a codebook was used to analyze data deductively, while the collected data were analyzed inductively, where the researchers read paragraph by paragraph to find out the general pattern.

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4. Results

The girls’ responses are categorized into five major themes—personal factors, anticipated value, class environment, home influence, and social influence. The themes are presented below with exemplars of comments from the participants.

4.1 Theme 1: Self-determination

Self-determination included positive attitudes, interest in the subject, and performing well. When learners were asked why they chose STEM subjects, they indicated that physical science was an interesting subject they enjoyed. Two sample excerpts from participants:

L1A: “Physical science is interesting, and I enjoy it. I understand science concepts.

L2B: “I always wanted to study physical science. People say it is a difficult subject, but I find it to be easy. Unlike mathematics, physics is simple, and I understand it better than mathematics. I perform well in the tests and assignments. Physics is an enjoyable subject.”

The girls expressed determination to take on science careers, where physical science was a prerequisite. Participant L4A explained: “I chose physical science because I want to be a Medical Doctor. I must have physical science as a subject because it is a prerequisite for entrance into Medicine.”

One participant indicated that whereas her father wanted her to be a nurse, she was determined to study hard to become an electrical engineer.

L3C: “I chose physical science because I want to do civil engineering at the university.”

4.2 Theme 2: Anticipated value

All the 10 study participants indicated that they were motivated by future careers to study physical science. All participants stated that physical science was imperative for STEM careers (Table 1).

Future careerNumber(%)
Engineer220
Doctor220
Pilot220
Pharmacist110
Optometrist110
Biotechnologist110
Nurse110
Total10100

Table 1.

Careers for learners.

L3C: I know there are opportunities for well-paid jobs when one does sciences. I can secure a scholarship for further studies”.

I think I will get a good-paying job. L2C: “I think our lives would not be the same if people were not studying physical science because people who invent things are scientists.”

4.3 Theme 3: The class environment

The majority of participants indicated that they received continuous support from educators. L3B stated: “My teachers encouraged me to choose physical sciences and mathematics since I performed well”.

L4A: “Our teacher is friendly and wants us to succeed. He provides extra time to complete our work.

All the participants appreciated the role of group work in learning physical science.

L3A: “Working as a team helps us to grasp concepts.”

They also singled out some discouraging classroom experiences.

L2A stated: “It is discouraging when the teacher concentrates on those who understand concepts faster than others, those who are smarter.” This was further highlighted by L3C: “If teachers consider you to be a slow learner or less intelligent, they do not give you much time, and sometimes they can insult you with words like…maths and physical science are for smart students… Such words discourage, but because I love Physics, I will work hard.”

Other disobliging experiences included a lack of resources, such as laboratories, science equipment, computer centers, and an internet connection, which made learning physical science hard. L1A said: It is difficult to learn physical science in classes where there is no science equipment. There is no laboratory to do practical work at our school, and it is sometimes difficult to understand concepts. However, I continue learning science because I enjoy it.

L1C: “But the challenge in my school is learning science without doing experiments.”

All participants from the three schools lacked laboratories, libraries, or had no access to the internet.

4.4 Theme 4: Home influence

The majority (eight out of the 10) study participants showed that they did not get help from the family when choosing subjects to study or doing physical science assignments at home. Of the 10 participants, only two (20%) received some help from family members (Table 2).

GradeSupport%No support%
Grade 10220880

Table 2.

Support received from learners’ homes.

Table 2 indicates that only 20% of parents/family members played a role in the girls’ choosing of physical science. Excerpts from participants:

My father is a Teacher, when I do not understand some of the things or questions he helps me. But he does not know most of the things because he is not a physical science teacher… My parents motivated me to choose the science stream. My father wanted me to do actuarial science but I want to be doctor.”

One participant’s father wanted her to become a nurse.

The two participants who declared to have received family support had some educated members at home; other girls indicated their parents did not have much education.

L1A: “My parents do not know science. My mother did not study science and my elder brother completed Grade seven.”

L2B: “My parents passed away and I had no one to assist me because I am the eldest in the family and I have to take care of my siblings.”

L3C (whose parents were migrant workers): “No one helps me with my school work. When I come home, I have to fetch water, clean the house, and cook. When I finish my chores, I study and write homework.”

L2A: “When I come back home from school, I have to do house chores.”

4.5 Theme 5: Social influence

Learners indicated the influence of role models within the community was important. Teachers of STEM subjects can also be role models for high school learners to emulate. Few role models, such as a medical doctor, friends, and teachers, were reported here below:

L1C “I want to become a medical doctor because there were role model doctors in the community. They are my role models to emulate.”

L3A: “My friends who are not doing physical sciences say it is a difficult subject. Those who are in my science class, we help each other every time we have tasks to do at home. Sometimes we do our homework together here at school.”

L3C: “I chose physical sciences because I want to do civil engineering at the university, I attended career guidance and it was interesting to see what civil engineers do.”

L4A: “Our teacher is a nice person. He always wants the best from us. When we do not understand something he stays with us so that we can understand.”

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5. Discussion

The study explored Grade 10 girls’ experiences in choosing physical science in South Africa. The study established that girls who studied physical science in Grade 10 were very low in the selected schools. Five themes from girls’ experiences to choose STEM subjects were self-determination, anticipated value, class environment, home environment, and social influence. The study participants expressed a positive attitude and interest in science. The positive attitudes of girls in physical science contradict studies that allude to girls’ negative attitudes toward science [83].

The girls’ choices of physical science indicated self-determination. It is no wonder they exhibited positive attitudes toward the subject. Machingambi [84] suggests that positive attitudes may affect performance, while negative attitudes may lead to a lack of interest. The girls’ excellent performance increased their confidence to choose physical science, suggesting that girls in South Africa are guided by the situation and the culture to choose STEM subjects. These observations agree with the Situated Expectancy-Value Theory (SEVT), where self-determination abetted girls’ interest in STEM subjects to break the social norm of not choosing STEM [69].

The study findings are consistent with DeWitt [85], who concluded that girls who held science aspirations perform well. Archer et al. [86] concluded that “science capital,” which includes economic, social, and cultural capital that relates to science would be necessary to fill the gap of the less represented females in STEM. Thus, learners may have to develop inner confidence, positive beliefs, and environmental contexts regarding their academic abilities [87, 88, 89]. These findings also align with the Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) concerning the learners’ environment, where it is postulated that science, in most cases, is for males. The observed mismatch between femininity and science is a well-known fact that negatively impacts girls [86]. Girls at 13 change their attitudes toward science, exacerbating gender parity [72]. Despite popular gender stereotyping, the girls in the study expressed self-determination in pursuing physical science to get into predominantly masculine STEM professions [90]. Thus, the social aspects are clear in the three tenets of SCT—1) the personal, which operates at an individual level; 2) the socialization of an individual within the environment; and 3) the collective level, where all people work in unison to shape the decisions in their societies [91]. All these three tenets apply to learners who are social beings that make choices regarding the subjects to study in high school.

All the girls in the study had chosen STEM subjects, and their choices were implied in anticipation of lucrative jobs if they pursued STEM careers. The findings correlate with Mghweno et al. [92], who contend that career is a determinant factor in high school subject selection. However, the finding of girls’ deliberate choices contradicts Dabula and Makura [93], who showed that career choices for many secondary school learners were accidental and were imposed by external forces in the South African context.

While the study participants pointed out some aspects in the classroom that motivated them to choose physical science, such as support from teachers and peers, many negative experiences were dissuading. Some of the negative influences included educators’ scornful remarks and the lack of vital science resources. All the schools that participated in the study did not have laboratories and lacked basic science equipment, libraries, and internet connectivity. These poor resources disadvantaged learners because they did not develop practical skills. Despite the lack of resources, Kibirige and Bodirwa [94] show that scientific investigations can be done using technology to increase learners’ interests and learning outcomes. With the increase in technology, it may be possible for girls to cope with science without proper physical resources. Our observations agree with the Social Cognitive Theory (SCT), which deals with an individual and the environment. The effect of the school-based factors agrees with Anders et al. [95], who found that in England, the type of school environment learners finds themselves in played a significant role in choosing subjects. Thus, school environment factors, such as curriculum, teachers, level of resources, and structures, may motivate or demotivate girls from choosing STEM subjects in high school [96].

Besides school factors, the home environment affected some girls’ choices of physical science. In this study, only 20% of the parents supported girls in choosing sciences and could assist them with homework. The low family support can be attributed to the social and economic characteristics of the parents. Although research in the United States indicated that socio-cultural factors influence girls’ participation in science [97], Ramnarain [98] in South Africa views personal (intrinsic) and external (extrinsic) factors that are associated with the Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) as integral parts of science inquiry learning.

Furthermore, Mujtaba and Reiss [96] asserted that significant factors are associated with extrinsic motivation. For instance, some girls indicated that they chose STEM subjects because they wanted to be like female doctors who were their role models in the community. Considering their reasons for choosing STEM subjects, girls in the study perceived the critical value of science, which may have motivated them. This finding is consistent with Hyde and Janet [97] and Wise and Simmons [99], who indicated that learners acknowledged the value of science. Thus, the quantity and quality of the content may enhance learners’ interest and increase their self-efficacy [8]. Research from Greece shows that teachers can exert influence on learners to gain interest in STEM subjects. Studies show that pre- and primary school learners can be taught STEM subjects because they can comprehend science concepts more than anticipated [100, 101, 102]. Early learners’ exposure to STEM increases their chances of espousing STEM careers [100]. Chatzopoulos et al. [103] contend that using DuBot based on Action Research, using visuals on a tablet, smartphone, and personal computers, and using low-cost materials can motivate learners. These types of innovations are useful for STEM teachers to emulate to enhance motivation of their learners to choose STEM careers and contribute to narrowing the gap between genders [101]. Unfortunately, despite the positive intentions of the teacher to use STEM methods, there are few teachers in pre- and primary schools and high schools who use STEM methods to teach science [104].

As the gender gap persists in STEM subjects, Marie et al. [105] contend that the focus should be on identifying factors that influence the girls’ career choices and developing relevant programs that enhance girls’ interest in STEM subjects. Career preparation in secondary schools is essential for career development [106] because learners align their subjects with the anticipated career [4]. Interventions should focus on lower grades to avoid girls’ leakage at Grade 9 in South Africa. Notwithstanding the huge numbers of girls in Grade 10 that did not choose STEM subjects in Limpopo, there is a need to find out if this scenario reflects a national trend. Thus, more studies are needed to identify why many girls do not choose STEM subjects. The findings of this study have far-reaching implications for all educational stakeholders, such as subject teachers, curriculum advisers, textbook authors, to include relevant materials for the “girl-child” to be motivated to choose STEM subjects.

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6. Limitations

The limitation was the small sample of Grade 10 girls from a rural area in South Africa. Therefore, the findings cannot be generalized. The study could be replicated using qualitative and quantitative approaches with larger samples of girls in rural, semi-urban, and urban areas. Girls who did not choose STEM subjects and teachers who were not interviewed in this study could be included in future studies to corroborate learners’ responses. Despite those limitations, the findings from this study render credence to girls’ experiences in choosing to study STEM subjects in South Africa.

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7. Conclusion and recommendations

The study reveals that the experiences and factors that motivate girls to choose to study STEM subjects are diverse. They included self-determination, aspirations, anticipated value, the class environment, home environment, and social influence. According to Almukhambetova and Kuzhabekova [45], these factors can be summed into three general levels—micro, mezo, and macro. How can we improve girls’ choices to study STEM subjects? How can we assist girls to improve their aspirations? Since the gender gap or disparity in STEM is a global challenge, which method can be applied that will suit all nations? These questions provoke humanity to look for real-life solutions. A one-man and a single approach may be futile. Therefore, a team of education stakeholders equipped with multi-faceted approaches is necessary. These approaches will have significant implications for STEM teachers in the country and beyond.

The study recommends that the interventions must be done at the school level to support learners in lower grades with career guidance, for science teachers to affirm learners’ self-efficacy, and for policymakers to guarantee the availability of the science resources that make science learning more interesting. Educators need to be equipped with skills to support learners emotionally and academically to make STEM subjects attractive. Also, parents need to be sensitized to increase their involvement in “girl-child” education.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank teachers of various schools who assisted in arranging for time to interact with the learners.

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Notes/thanks/other declarations

Thanks to the participating schools.

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Written By

Israel Kibirige and Shapule Edith Modjadji

Submitted: November 22nd, 2021 Reviewed: January 6th, 2022 Published: March 17th, 2022