This article explores the challenges and opportunities that arise from the implementation of STEM education in Mauritius.
In today’s fast-changing world, where technological advances profoundly shape societies worldwide, STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) cannot be overstated. Indeed, it plays a crucial role in preparing students to tackle the multifaced challenges of the future. For a small island country like Mauritius, located in the Indian Ocean, the adoption and advancement of STEM education is fundamental for educational purposes and economic growth and development. However, the process is not easy, and difficulties may arise.
Obstacles in the implementation of STEM in Mauritius
1. Limited infrastructure and resources
In Mauritius, much like in many developing countries, there are substantial challenges when it comes to establishing effective STEM education. Particularly, the issues revolve around the lack of proper infrastructure and resources. A significant obstacle is the shortage of modern laboratories, up-to-date technology, and current educational materials.
These deficiencies limit students’ ability to engage in hands-on learning experiences, which are of vital importance for effective STEM education implementation. To genuinely cultivate STEM talent, schools nationwide must be equipped with sufficient facilities and resources to facilitate practical learning and experimentation.
2. Shortage of skilled educators
Teachers are at the heart of any educational system, and the shortage of qualified STEM educators in Mauritius is a pressing issue. Even when educators are available, their training may not be up to date with modern STEM pedagogy and technology. The field of STEM is dynamic, with new discoveries and technologies emerging regularly.
This rapid evolution necessitates continuous professional development for educators to stay current with the latest pedagogical approaches, curriculum updates, and technological advancements.
3. Gender disparity
Gender disparity in STEM fields is a worldwide concern that transcends borders and affects countries on a global scale. Mauritius is not exempt from this issue. Women and girls have historically been underrepresented in STEM fields, and addressing this disparity is crucial for fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM education and careers.
Dr Tandrayen-Ragoobur and Dr Gokulsing highlight how stereotypes and socialisation practices perpetuate gender inequalities in STEM fields, a challenge not unique to Mauritius but prevalent globally. The authors emphasise three interrelated factors that play a pivotal role in understanding the emergence of gender disparities in STEM in Mauritius.
Firstly, they highlight “personal factors,” encompassing socio-demographic and socio-economic aspects of family backgrounds, which significantly influence young girls’ choices regarding STEM careers.
Secondly, the authors delve into “environmental factors,” which are closely tied to socio-cultural beliefs and the social environment in which male and female individuals interact. For instance, the cultural stereotype associating men with better mathematical and scientific skills while assigning women a more family-oriented role.
Thirdly, the authors emphasise “behavioural factors” related to girls’ self-confidence in STEM careers. Stereotypes about girls’ abilities can impact their STEM choices. It is worth noting that teachers and parents, especially those with limited STEM knowledge, may negatively influence students’ choices. Their support becomes, thus, crucial. Motivating teachers and gaining parental support are essential for encouraging and empowering girls in STEM.
Pathways to progress
1. Government initiatives
Recognising the challenges mentioned above, the Mauritian government has taken a significant step forward in implementing new initiatives—for instance, the implementation of the National Open Educational Resources (OER) policy. As Dr Rajabalee, Dr Jugurnath, and Dr Santally noted, this policy has played a vital role in ensuring access to educational materials. The government reduces its expenditure by providing free digital educational resources, allowing for greater investment in other educational initiatives.
Moreover, favouring digital learning can help overcome the infrastructure challenges associated with the implementation of STEM education. Prioritising quality education for all aligns perfectly with Mauritius’s commitment to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4), which seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable education for all.
2. Teacher training and development
Mauritius must invest in comprehensive teacher development programs to tackle the shortage of qualified STEM educators and bridge the gap between training and modern STEM education demands.
Moreover, collaboration with universities and educational institutions can play a crucial role in providing teachers access to specialised STEM education courses and training opportunities. Encouraging experienced STEM professionals to transition into teaching careers through targeted programs can also help alleviate the shortage of STEM educators.
3. Encouraging diversity
Promoting gender diversity in STEM fields is not just a matter of equality; it’s a strategic imperative for unlocking innovation and fostering a more inclusive STEM community. In Mauritius, like in many parts of the world, encouraging girls and young women to explore and excel in STEM requires a multifaceted approach.
In Mauritius, YUVA Mauritius, with the support of the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), aims to promote gender diversity in STEM education. YUVA and CFLI are actively working on implementing a STEM education project targeted at disadvantaged young girls on the island. The initiative recognises the potential of all students, regardless of their background, and aims to provide equal access to STEM education and opportunities.
Through mentorship, hands-on learning experiences, and exposure to STEM role models, YUVA and CFLI are helping girls develop a passion for STEM subjects and build self-confidence. They are creating safe and inclusive spaces where girls can explore their interests in STEM, ask questions, and dream big.
In conclusion, while Mauritius faces significant challenges in advancing STEM education, there is a clear commitment from the government and various organisations to address these issues. The multifaceted approach adopted, including policy initiatives, teacher development, and diversity promotion, holds promise for a brighter future in STEM education in Mauritius. Mauritius can equip its students with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in an increasingly technology-driven world by addressing these challenges and seizing opportunities.
Nicole Marchetti, MA International Relations - Communications Officer (YUVA STEM Education Projects)