Sunday, March 15, 2015

Making Careers in STEM Education Accessible and Culturally Relevant to Indigent Girls in Remote Villages in Nigeria

Girls and women have been stereotyped as not capable of pursuing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education) for their studies and careers. But is it true that STEM is not a field for women? On March 13, 2015, the panel session “Making Careers in STEM Education Accessible and Culturally Relevant to Indigent Girls in Remote Villages in Nigeria”, sponsored by Global Fund for Women, took place at the Church Center of the United Nations. This session, concentrated on the obstacles to girls and women in STEM education and the possible solutions to overcome the obstacles in the country of Nigeria, believed that STEM is not a field exclusive to men. With some help and empowerment, women can succeed in the field of STEM. Women’s success in STEM can in turn help reduce poverty in the country.
In Nigeria, STEM has been considered as a realm for boys, but meanwhile there are so many girls interested in STEM. However, more often than not, girls encounter obstacles that boys don’t have to face. One of the panelists, Philipa Madubuko, a final year student in Biochemistry from Nigeria, identified obstacles that stop girls from entering the field of STEM. According to her, girls don’t have encouragement to pursue mathematics; the mindset in Nigeria is that the STEM is too challenging so that STEM is only for guys; poor family backgrounds only allow boys to pursue STEM education as the required materials are expensive. Another panelist, Elizabeth Odoh, a medical doctor from Nigeria, agreed that there is the culture that high-waged jobs (STEM jobs in this case) shall go to men. She also offered some suggestions to empower women so that they project themselves capable in STEM and succeed in the field. For instance, she recommended build solid foundations and encourage women to join groups which will encourage and help them in STEM positions. According to Odoh, girls should involve themselves in an association or an organization that can help them. She also pointed out the importance of mentors for young girls. A young girl who has a mentor tends to be more determined and encouraged to go into STEM field. A mentor can guide a young girl and help her overcome obstacles. It is also important that young girls have strong confidence by working hard. Since STEM is capital intensive and time consuming, it is crucial that girls get financial support they need. A third panelist, Rev Sister Carol Njoku from the University of Nigeria, realized the importance of influencing the structure, of making changes to the foundation of the system. She and her colleagues conducted a research study in rural Nigeria where they found success stories of women in STEM. The poverty rate in Nigeria was reduced with the help of girls.
In sum, the panelists believe that girls need to stand up, to project themselves capable in STEM, and not to be discriminated. Girls should also be given full support to study STEM if they want to. The government needs to be aware of the issue. Working together, NGOs and the government need to increase public awareness, government investment, and government support. The education of women can result in significant effects. As one of the speakers said on the session, “if women are educated, the world is educated”.

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