The Path to Improved Participation of Female Gender in STEM
There is the need for Africa, especially her women folk, to improve enrollment and participation in fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Vice Chancellor for Research and Dean of the Graduate School at Montana Tech. University, United States of America, Professor Beverly Hartline stated this at a lecture in FUTA. She spoke on the topic, “Advancing Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering: Examples from the USA.
Explaining what STEM is Hartline said science and engineering are about questions and ideas, extrapolation and prediction, systematic observation, communication, interpretation, deduction, and understanding. Encouraging women participation, she said diverse people, including women, minorities, persons with disabilities, and others from various countries, cultures, and backgrounds are essential to progress and leadership in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).
Giving the figure of women in STEM in the United States of America, she confirmed that it is still low, but improving slowly. ”Scarcity of women and minorities in STEM in USA is bad. Bad for Science and Engineering. Ideas and opportunities were lost to science and science education because few women and minorities participated. Many children have poor science literacy, because their mothers know little or no science and mathematics. Many minorities and women had potential to be great scientists or engineers, but no opportunity. This has developed into lack of equity, deprived income and role models. And the cycle continues. The situation is improving, but way too slowly.” she said.
Quoting Dr. Virginia Valian who said two key concepts help explain the slow pace of women’s advancement in science and engineering “Gender schema” and Accumulation of advantages, she said Gender (and ethnic) “schema” are widely held beliefs about men, women, and people from ethnic groups with respect to their competence, career roles, and leadership ability leading us to overrate white men, and to underrate women (and minorities), while “accumulation of advantage” refers to the cumulative long-term effect of small differences in the way males and females from different ethnic groups are treated throughout their lives : at home and in school, on the sports field, in the workplace, in restaurants, stores, theatres. She said even tiny differences can add up to a huge disparity.
On what can be done to improve STEM in developing countries she said those driving the process be wary of the tendency to be comfortable with the status quo and aversion to change. She advised that Universities must prepare teachers who are able to invite, engage, and inspire children about science and mathematics, especially children with no role models or encouragement in their families and communities.
She also recommended networking regionally, nationally and internationally with women/minorities in Science or Engineering groups taking them in success skills workshops and encouraging them with high-prestige awards/fellowships through special conferences/lectures.
Hartline advocated for an improved workplace and campus environment to include site visits to improve climate that will show female role models who will share their love (or fear) for science and mathematics by engaging students with hands-on inquiry-based pedagogy, nurture and reward students’ curiosity.
She recommended successful strategies to include establishing science camps/clubs/networks for girls/minorities, inclusive pedagogy, curriculum, and teacher professional development, internet resources, web pages, and data bases, mentoring, job shadowing, and career brochures.
In her remark, the Director, Centre for Gender Issues in Science and Technology (CEGIST), Professor Tinu Adebolu said the Centre continuously organize programmes on STEM whereby issues relating to gender are treated. She also said one of the major target group for CEGIST’s programme is the Girl Child. “Over the years our target as a Centre is the female gender. We organize and take our programmes to secondary schools with the female gender as our target audience. This we do to encourage them to take interest in science based subjects. We have noticed the gap between the female and male gender in STEM and we are working round the clock to reduce this gap,” she said.