Leaving out girls, women in STEM education is a loss – Prof. Udeani

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By  Ismail Adekunle

Professor of Science Education at the Department of Science and Technology Education, University of Lagos, Prof. (Mrs.) Uchenna Nkiruka Udeani said leaving out girls and women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education is a colossal loss to all and sundry.

She made this suggestion, however, when delivering her annual inaugural lecture tiltled: “Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potentials of Women and Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).”

She mentioned that in many homes, girls are drafted into the kitchens while boys are allowed to go to schools. Meanwhile, they say science subjects and engineering arte not for girls but for girls.

Also, in her research, she found that where girls are schooling, they are even facing the challenge of over-crowding in their classroom. As a result of this, girls’ results in their examinations are not encouraging. But, when girls attended classes/laboratories with enough space, doing their work comfortably, then their results is marvelous.

She said: “I have been led by my conviction that everyone needs science education no matter how rudimentary to be able to function in our modern digitized world. Indeed, it is the responsibility of science educators to ensure that science education is delivered effectively to all learners irrespective of sex or other circumstances.

Throughout my career as a teacher, I have followed with keen interest the difficult faced by all stakeholders in making science accessible to all. One area of long-standing concern is the low rate of female participation in STEM subjects and consequently STEM careers. The gender gap in STEM education participation and achievement has been the subject of extensive research over many decades. While, gender differences in science and Mathematics achievement appear to have decreased in recent years in many countries, as shown in large scale cross-sectional studies, they have not been eliminated.

Moreover, while more women are entering the STEM workforce than ever before, women are still significantly underrepresented in STEM occupations in many countries.”

When she expressed further on the STEM education and 2030 sustainable development agenda, she came out with her findings which shows that only 18 women have won Nobel Prize in Physics, Chemistry or Medicine since Marie Curie in 1903 compared to 572 men; today only 28% of the world researchers are women; too many girls are held back by discrimination, biases, social norms and expectations that influence the quality of education they receive and the subject they study. She mentioned that if the 2030 sustainable agenda could be achieved, certain conditions must be taken into cognizance and implemented, then improvements that we are craving for are gotten.

She added: “UNESCO recognizes that achieving 2030 agenda requires the cultivation of transformative, innovative and creative thinking and skills, competent and empowered citizens (UNESCO, 2016). For education to achieve its potential, urgent changes are needed. This includes steps to eliminate persistent disparities in education access, participation and achievement to improve educational quality and provide learners with the knowledge, skill attitudes and behaviours to ensure inclusive and sustainable societies (UNESCO 2017).

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education underpins the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. STEM education has already brought about improvements in many aspects of life such as health, agriculture, preserving the environment, reducing poverty, infrastructure and renewable energy.  It is also key for preparing students for world of employment, enabling them entry into in-demand STEM careers of tomorrow. Leaving out girls and women in STEM is a loss for all. For the SDGs to be achieved, everyone needs to be involved including women and girls.

This inaugural lecture was, however, chaired by the Vice Chancellor of University of Lagos, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe; other principal officers of the institution were present. Many scholars and erudites within and in the Diaspora also attended this memorable event.

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