Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Education (MEd)

First Supervisor/Advisor

Dr. Mweru Mwingi

Second Supervisor/Advisor

Dr. Winston Massam


Institute for Educational Development, East Africa


The 21st century requires learners that are critical thinkers, problem solvers, creative and innovators. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) as a discipline demands logical thinking, engagement and exploration which results in the equipping of learners with these essential skills. In reality, however, STEM is perceived as difficult to master and in particular gender stereotyping prevail whereby science is constructed as male and masculine discipline. Research on women and STEM primarily reports women in science from a negative stance, from negative perception to science or high prevalence of gender stereotypes that affect female access to science. These studies uphold a stance that is widely believed as true and while gendered beliefs and practices are known to reign access to STEM, there is minimal research that has been conducted on successful women and girls that value and have broken the barriers in science. These studies are mostly from Western countries yet, national examination results from the Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC) indicate that women are defying the gendered norm in science. For such reasons, this study sought to explore a case of successful girls’ enrollment, participation and achievement in science subjects in one public secondary school in Taita Taveta County Kenya. A qualitative research approach and a case study design were applied to explore how girls in Juhudi Girls’ High School (pseudonym) are defying the gendered norm. Purposive sampling was used to select the school, teachers and students’ participants. Semi-structured interviews, focus group discussion and document analysis were used as key methods for data collection. The study findings revealed that even though there is an existing gender norm in science learning, there is a strong counter trend and defiance against the norm among girls in form 3 and 4, aged between 15 and 18. The study reports positive trends in enrollment and achievement in science and especially physics. Indeed, the study established an interplay of influences both positive and negative that affect the girls’ sustained interest and engagement in science. The positive factors include an inclined love and interest for science, success expectations vis-à-vis the utility value of science, future placement in science related courses and careers, hands-on teaching and learning experience of science, mentorship as well as teacher, peer and parental support. Further, obstacles that emerged as a hindrance to girls’ engagement in science include stereotypes, parental pressure, negative peer influence, inadequate resources and the ‘smart kids’ syndrome. Despite the myriad of challenges, the study revealed the existence of a strong self-efficacy and motivation as girls’ anchor towards successful engagement in STEM. This confirms the postulates of the expectancy-value theory which argues that students’ self-concepts and intrinsic value determine their aspirations, subject choices and achievement.