On Tuesday, February 11 2020, the world marked the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. It is a day set aside by the United Nations for reflection on the place of women and girls in science and the need to work towards improving women’s access to STEM courses.
According to the United Nations’ observances on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, in spite of the tremendous efforts of the global community in the past 15years, only about 30 per cent of researchers are women, worldwide. UNESCO data (2014-2016) further revealed that only around 30 per cent of female students choose Science-affiliated courses in higher education. These statistics show that women and girls’ enrollment and practice in science needs improvement, globally.
To rise to 21st Century challenges, the place of women is non-negotiable and there is a pressing need to harness their full potential. Improved participation of women and girls in science are vital for the achievement of relevant Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and this entails tackling age-long biases and gender stereotypes that currently discourage their involvement.
As the world marked the 5th International Day of Women and Girls in Science Day on Tuesday, it was an opportunity for Nigeria to reflect on the importance of science and technology to the attainment of development. We should have looked at the (un)available data on human resources in medicine, anatomy, physiology, Archeology etc. of female students and practitioners and rise to the challenges of improving the teaching and learning of the sciences.
There has to be a concerted effort to encourage science education at all educational levels. The 6-3-3-4 system of education was designed with an emphasis on science and technical education. However, the implementation is poor so far as the annual budgetary allocations and the policy document are not commensurable. A high number of schools lack laboratories while the few lucky ones have little to no equipment or manpower, to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge in science.
In the face of the humbling statistics of out-of-school children in Nigeria which Girls constitute over 75%, the establishment of Girls Science Secondary Schools has not been significant in exposure of girls to study of sciences. As it is with the common schools, the special colleges and institutions are not well-funded. They also pale in numbers to cater for provision of this kind of education in contrast to the growing figure of girl-child in Nigeria. The combination of these factors leads to frustrations for aspiring female student scientists and abandonment of their ambitions. We are not doing well either in providing an enabling environment for women researchers, too.
However, as the international community gathered to mark this special day again, Nigeria should defeat complacency and put in place pragmatic measures to help the girl-child learn the sciences so as to enable the rise in numbers of female researchers towards building a socially, economically and technologically developed nation. The government at the federal and state levels need to accord (female) education more priority. It is imperative to increase the number of special science schools equipped with facilities for learning and teaching. Excelling female students in sciences should be encouraged with prizes and scholarships. The government (s) should also be involving female scientists in the development and implementation of STEM-policies.
Groups, associations and other stakeholders in Science education and practices should facilitate more engagement in national and international collaborative scientific research for women in STEM.
In the same vein, NGOs and interested socio-bodies must deepen efforts in encouraging young girls to develop interest in science-based courses. This can be done with awareness campaigns and advocacy on gender equality. The world needs to conquer the problematic issues of stereotypes. We can no longer shy away from the myth that STEM- endeavour is considered exclusive rights of men in large parts of Nigeria and Africa.
As Africa and the rest of the world work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in 2030, we must come around to the understanding that improved participation of women and girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics may determine the success (SDG 4 and 5) in Nigeria. Therefore, it is time to take women empowerment and girl-child education seriously.
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