Engineering Equality

Improving gender equity in Tanzania

Saturday 14 March 2009, by LAURA PILOZZI-EDMONDS

To improve the gender equity at the
College of Engineering and Technology,
dedicated members of the University
of Dar es Salaam’s Gender Center
began the Special Pre-Entry Program
in 2004, which immediately increased
the percentage of female students to
15.5% in the academic year 2004-
2005 (up from 7.3% in 2002-2003).
In the academic year of 2007-2008,
24.5% of students in engineering
were female. The program achieved
this increase in enrolment by allowing
girls with low marks coming out of
secondary school to undergo eight
weeks of intensive, targeted training
in engineering science, mathematics,
chemistry and communication skills.

The College of Engineering and
Technology then reserves a certain
number of places for admission in its
different degree programs for the girls
that pass an examination at the end of
the training session.

Although girls and boys are enrolling to
the same extent in primary school and
early secondary school in Tanzania,
girls face more difficulties than boys in
terms of attendance and performance.

To begin with, girls in Tanzania are more
limited than boys by the large distances
that need to be walked in order to
reach school in the rural areas, and
by the harassment by adults they are
subjected to on their way to school in
the urban areas. Also, when they come
home from school, girls are also more
likely to have to do domestic chores
or to take care of ill family members,
and therefore have less time to devote
to their homework than boys do. Girls
are also not as encouraged to do well
in mathematics and physics, and are
often told by family members and by
their peers that the hard sciences are
too difficult for them.

As you advance in secondary education
in Tanzania, the increasing gender gap in
enrolment is made worse by the problem
of teenage pregnancy because schools
are currently obligated by Tanzanian law
to expulse them. Teachers Interviewed
have also indicated that teenage girls are
dropping out of school because of early
marriage, particularly in rural areas.

The underlying assumption of the
program is that some girls may
under-perform at the secondary
level because of the poor quality of
education. The program therefore
aims to allow the girls to benefit from
targeted, quality education in the
subjects most important for success
in an engineering degree program.
What is exceptional about the
Special Pre-Entry Program is its
comprehensiveness in its efforts
to create the right environment for
the pre-entry girls to perform once
they are admitted. More than just
granting entry into the College,
the Gender Center has given the
girls the tools to perform well in
engineering, including textbooks and
supplementary classes, as well as
tangential programs and initiatives
that work towards creating a gender
sensitive environment. Perhaps
the most important initiative is the
availability of scholarships for tuition
and board that are tailored for girls in
the pre-entry program who are socioeconomically

All faculty members interviewed
agreed that they could not distinguish
between pre-entry and direct-entry
students in terms of performance in
the classroom. In fact, the majority
of faculty members declared that
some of their best students entered
through the pre-entry program. The
Acting Principal of the College
of Engineering and Technology
points out that some girls from the
program performed so well that they
are currently working as teaching
assistants or laboratory assistants in
the College.

An analysis comparing the grade
point averages of the male students,
the few female students who entered
the College directly, and female
students who entered through
the pre-entry program confirmed
this impression: although female
students entering through the preentry
program perform less well
than their peers in their first year, the
margin of difference in performance
is decreased in correlation with years
in the program. There is no significant
difference at all by the fourth year.

One of the most striking results
of the program is the change in
cultural attitudes that it has ushered
in. Predictably, the girls in the first
cohort were the ones who faced
the greatest challenges. Because
the academic environment strongly
values merit, they described that in
their first year some of their male
classmates and their teachers had
negative reactions to their presence.

There was an overall feeling that the
girls had gotten into the college by
a “back door” and that they would
lower the standard of the engineering
education. However, by the second
year, the beneficiaries described
that most of the negative reactions
had stopped. Interviews with faculty
members and students confirm
that the program is currently wellregarded
within the college.

Another, more subtle, impact is
that “it empowers girls and gives
them opportunities,” as mentioned
by a third year student who was a
beneficiary of the program. Some of
the girls that were interviewed while
undergoing the pre-entry training
noted that they would not be able to
access a university education were it
not for this program. And as success
breeds success, many of the original
cohort are now preparing for their
Master’s degrees.


Laura Pilozzi-Edmonds holds
a Bachelor of Arts and Science in
Biomedical Science with minors in
Social Studies of Medicine and African
Studies from McGill University.

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