JICA Hosts Regional Conference on Mathematics and Science Education in Nairobi

Conference participants from 27 different African countries and JICA senior staff and education experts at the regional conference

On March 15-17, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), and Kenya's Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) hosted in Nairobi a regional conference on mathematics and science education in Africa. JICA has been an instrumental partner in Africa in strengthening mathematics and science education (MSE) through a range of technical cooperation and grant-funded projects, from the promotion of lesson study to the construction of teacher in-service training centers and pre-service institutions.

The conference brought together at CEMASTEA[1] director-level delegations from 27 African Ministries of Education to explore the critical contributions of MSE in transforming African society. Also in attendance to share their perspectives were senior education experts from the World Bank, UNESCO-IICBA, ADEA, SEAMEO RECSAM[2] in Malaysia, and the University of Sussex. This unique gathering provided a timely opportunity to share lessons learned and successful models of MSE across the continent. Indeed, the conference was held just months following the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in the lead up to TICAD VI[3], which will also be hosted in Nairobi in August 2016.

Conference highlights

Dr. Takao Toda of JICA's Human Development Department plants a tree at CEMASTEA

Dr. Matiang'i and Ms. Oley Dibba Wadda shake hands after he officially inaugurates an office block at CEMASTEA as Dr. Toda looks on

Following a tree planting ceremony, which symbolized the continued partnership between JICA, ADEA and the Government of Kenya, the Cabinet Secretary of Kenya's MoEST, Dr. Fred O. Matiang'i, officially opened the conference. The Executive Secretary of ADEA, Ms. Oley Dibba Wadda, the Director General of JICA's Human Development Department, Dr. Takao Toda, and the Cabinet Secretary Dr. Fred O. Matiang'i gave thought-provoking opening remarks that were debated in the subsequent panel discussion. 

The Cabinet Secretary urged participants to look beyond the statistics of doom and start building a platform that places Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education at its center. He also emphasized that STEM education should not just equip students to pursue higher education, given that it is not the path the majority of youth will choose, but rather also provide them with the conceptual knowledge needed to succeed in technical professionals. Dr. Toda called for countries to make the most use of currently available resources, particularly the most important one of all: wisdom. This will help tease out how to more effectively use MSE as a tool for transformative change in Africa. 

To this end, presenters from Ethiopia, Senegal, Zambia and Kenya shared case studies of different JICA-supported models that they have successfully adapted to their local contexts. The case studies featured projects at the different stages of the education cycle, from programs targeting basic education, as in the PAAME case of participatory school management in Senegal[4], to successful examples of tertiary institutions, like Kenya's JKUAT[5]. The case studies also highlighted distinct types of approaches. The case of Ethiopia's LAMS[6] project, for instance, was an example of a targeted intervention to improve assessment through item development trainings. On the other hand, Zambia's experience with lesson study was an example of system-wide change that promotes in-service training and mutual professional learning among teachers.

Important Takeaways

Following his presentation on Zambia's application of the Japanese practice of lesson study, Mr. Muyangwa Kamutumwa, the Director of Teacher Education Specialized Services at the Ministry of General Education in Zambia, spoke about the importance of adapting programs to local contexts. He explained that "in Zambia, we have modified [the model]. In Japan, it is a four step cycle, but in Zambia, we do eight steps because [teachers] have to revise lessons." He further highlighted that "[countries] shouldn't just stick to what they do in Japan but adapt it to their own conditions like we have done." 

Mr. Alioune Diop from Senegal's Ministry of Education, who presented on participatory school management, spoke about the value of these meetings for him. He noted that "at this conference, we have clearly identified the difficulties – the need to mobilize and motivate teachers. Teachers need to be supported so that they still believe in education. In the case of Senegal, we now need to help teachers make use of available tools and motivate them to remain engaged to inspire children to learn. This is not a financing issue; it has to do with the way teachers are supported. The conference has showcased experiences that can work towards that."

Structuring the discussions around concrete examples of successful initiatives while being candid about the remaining challenges sparked many other important questions. Participants exchanged views on the root causes of the disparities in STEM performances, including the gender gap, the rural vs. urban divide, and socio-economic disparities. They also spoke about "silently excluded pupils," the inclusion of students with disabilities, issues of language of instruction, and the relevance of curricula, among others. This regional conference created a platform and the networks necessary for African countries to address these challenges in a holistic and coordinated manner.

Related link

For more detailed information on the conference background, panelists, discussions and presentation PowerPoints, please visit the Regional Conference of Mathematics and Science Education in Africa website.


  • [1] CEMASTEA: Centre for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education in Africa. CEMASTEA is an institution under Kenya's Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) that serves as a center for continuous professional development for educators in Kenya and other African countries. JICA financed the construction of the state of the art facilities and supports in-service training opportunities at the center. 
  • [2] SEAMEO RECSAM: The Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Regional Centre for Education in Science and Mathematics, based in Malaysia.
  • [3] TICAD: Tokyo International Conference on African Development. The 2016 TICAD will be the sixth such conference, and the first to be hosted in Africa.
  • [4] Senegal's PAAME project (2015-2018): In French, "Projet d'amélioration des apprentissages en mathématiques à l'élèmentaire." In English, "Ensuring Basic Mathematics Education in Primary with School-Based Management Approach." 
  • [5] JKUAT: Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. The university was established with support from JICA in 1977.
  • [6] LAMS: Learning Achievement in Mathematics and Science Education