Important Outcomes of the Raising Girls’ Ambition (RAGA) Conference Held in Ibadan, Nigeria, Which I Attended

I was privileged to attend the fourth Raising Girls’ Ambition (RAGA) conference between October 10th and October 12th this year 2018. The RAGA conference is normally an important forum for discussing the difficulties which girls face in a bid to come up with realistic solutions for empowering girls to attain their dreams. This year, it was organized by the Global Youth Leadership and Girl-Child Foundation in partnership with the Lead City University, Ibadan, Nigeria. The theme of the conference was “Equipping Girls for Involvement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) for Sustainable Development”. Specifically, it addressed many important issues regarding STEM education among girls and the scale that STEM could result in the economic empowerment of the girl-child.

Students of some selected secondary schools in Ibadan
 
The conference's three days encompassed several defining speeches from experienced professors such as Professor Jennifer Weitz of the Paradise Valley Community College, Phoenix Arizona, USA. Professor Karin Brodie of the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, Professor Ayotola Aremu of the University of Ibadan, and myself also illuminated several notes which influenced the different resolutions, which I am pleased to relay here. My hope is that the rate of girls’ involvement and success in STEM fields will be accelerated in the coming years.


The convener of Raga (center)  with President of IITA women's group, Mary; Girls scholarship recipient members of the LOC and Lead speakers



Winner of the Girls quiz competition, Ige Theresa of Command Day secondary school Apata, Ibadan and the runner up

Notations from the Conference 

The conference noted numerous issues pertaining to STEM education among the girls in the context of the balanced picture of STEM subjects and projects. Firstly, the number of girls in STEM is not good enough in the global arena. While the Western nations have more girls actively pursuing STEM-related programs and careers, the developing world has few girls in STEM. As such, more girls are arguably needed to take up STEM subjects.

Secondly, conference speakers noted that the levels of enthusiasm needed to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs are too low among the girls. Girls wrongly assume that engineering and mathematics subjects are reserved for the boys.
Thirdly, educating the girl-child is useful in national development. The girl-child education's impact on national development is attributable to the extent that girls are characteristically more willing to channel their earnings towards the support of their immediate and extended families than the boys. Since STEM education acts as a pathway for girls to access high-flying careers, educating the girl-child is relevant in national development.

Fourthly, is the lack of STEM role models for the girls. The shortage of STEM role models who have successfully pursued STEM careers implies that it becomes difficult for girls to take an interest in STEM given that most girls consider STEM subjects as male-oriented areas of study.
The re-training of teachers in regard to inspiring the girls to adopt the mindsets which would place them in a favorable position to pursue STEM subjects is needed. While teachers are trained to impart knowledge from a general perspective, teachers need to be trained to motivate the girl-child to explore the male-dominated careers. Likewise, the school curricula need to be more inclusive. Importantly, since most curricula do not factor in the essence of stimulating the girls to take up STEM programs and subjects, modifications need to be made on the curricula in a way which would see more girls adopting STEM subjects fearlessly.

Another important note was that STEM subjects are associated with creativity. In contrast, the opportunities for creativity are limited in many communities in Nigeria and most other developing countries. Therefore, based on the restricted chances for stirring up the much-needed creativity for engaging in STEM programs, few girls understand the bigger picture of STEM outside of the school environment. Also, the government agencies’ support for programs associated with the girl-child is limited. Only the not-for-profit entities are adequately involved in encouraging the education of the girl-child. Additionally, the girl-child does not have the necessary confidence and communication skills for making her issues known to the interested parties who might help them to pursue STEM careers. Finally, STEM is exciting, girls who excel in STEM subjects should be rewarded accordingly to inspire a sense of self-esteem when taking STEM subjects. 

The Resolutions

The fourth RAGA conference also made several convenient resolutions. Firstly, girls should be enlightened about how stereotypes affect their career development. More importantly, the girls should be taught about the ways of prevailing over the stereotypes by encouraging parents to play an active role in raising the ambitions of their girls. Secondly, different societies should be taught to avoid the biases against the female gender since preconceived notions against women have accounted for the assumption that STEM education is for the boy-child alone. To eliminate the biases, public awareness campaigns should be started to discourage the societal members from holding on to such retrogressive biases.

 Thirdly, the school curricula should be modified in a way which would inspire girls to acquire STEM knowledge. The changes in curricula could be attained by coordinating with the curriculum developers. Fourthly, since mentorship is essential in STEM education, schools should identify female role models who would stir the interest in STEM among girls from their early years in school. The mentors could be identified from the leading engineering and technology firms and universities as well as female scholars in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Also, since creativity is useful in STEM education, the government authorities, at the community-level, should set up small centers of creativity which would act as hubs for firing the creativity among both girls and boys from a tender age. Additionally, given that policies could go a long way in improving the adoption of STEM subjects among the girls, gender-sensitive policies should be developed to encourage teachers to teach STEM subjects from a gender-sensitive viewpoint so that girls do not continue to take STEM for granted by imagining that STEM subjects are reserved for the boy-child only.

Certainly, the issue of STEM education has been addressed by many interested parties around the world and has been addressed from different perspectives. A lot of progress is being made and what’s important is that all parties need to improve on what they might be doing currently to achieve the noble goal of getting more girls into the STEM areas. Still, it should not be STEM or nothing. The girl-child should be encouraged to take on STEM in addition to other areas of interest, such as languages, literature, psychology, media and communication, political economy, international relations and cultural studies, to name but a few. Of everything that can help the girl-child in her interest in, or pursuit of STEM subjects and professions, research has shown that the behaviour and attitudes of parents influence children's STEM performance, participation, and dispositions, whether male or female. Their dispositions would include their attitudes, beliefs, feelings, and readiness to offer support to their girl-children in these male-dominated areas. So, parents and influential people ought to know that negative and counterproductive beliefs and actions can limit girls’ potentials and options in everyday life and careers.

https://www.blogger.com/follow.g?view=FOLLOW&blogID=2876732064156375331
 

Rabia S. Sa'id, PhD
  • Associate Professor of Physics
    Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria
  • Personal Website: http://www.rabiasaid.org
  • Email: rabia at rabiasaid.org
    Please remember to use the correct format of email, with the @ sign and no spaces. It was written this way to prevent those nasty spambots from harvesting the email address.
  • Ford Foundation International Fellow (2002)
  • Fellow of the African Scientific Institute (2013)
  • OWSD/ Elsevier Foundation Award in Physics (2015)

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