Ezeanyanaso: We need more female participation in sciences
Worldwide, women (girls) are vastly under-represented in professions that involved science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as according to statistics less than 15 per cent of world engineers are women.
This development, however, worries many female professionals, particularly the Head, Polymer and Textile Technology Division, Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi, Lagos, Dr. Chika Ezeanyanaso, who regretted that female are heavily misrepresented in professional courses, science inclusive.
Ezeanyanaso in an interview with The Guardian during the yearly Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine and Mathematics (STEMM) festival, held at University of Lagos (UNILAG), noted that the average girl child in Nigeria faces a lot of challenges on education more so, science education.
She lamented neglect of the girl child, which is affecting the overall development of the country. She therefore informed that the country to witness desired economic and social development; it must encourage education of the girl child and even more in sciences so as to record high number of female scientists in the country.
She said: “Worldwide women are being underrepresented, especially in science education, even in Nigeria the story is not different. That is why we are having so many developmental challenges. Developed countries like China, for instance, encourage girls to study STEM, over 40 per cent of their girls are in STEM, compared with the United States, which has 25 per cent girls in STEM. What is the percentage of Nigerian girls in STEM?
“We must learn to create programmes and initiatives that would encourage the girl child to look in the way of being a scientist. To build a nation, you need to be a scientist and it is mothers that build the nation. After all, it is the African proverb, that says when you train a girl child you train the entire nation. So we must encouraging the girls to dwell more on science programmes, for instance, when you go to most Nigerian universities, students in engineering department are mostly boy as it is boys affairs only. So we need to reawaken the society that the girls have the same capacity with boys and can achieve greatly, if only they are encouraged.”
Recalling how she began her journey as a scientist, she said: “My experience was that I wanted to be a scientist, but I was afraid of mathematics. I hate the subject. But my father counseled and told me to go and study the basics of Mathematics. In fact, he said, ‘if you want to become a scientist, go and learn mathematics.’ I said how could I do that? And he responded, ‘it is simple, everyday read your mathematics.’
“So I started it, I read mathematics everyday, and today I have a PhD and a chemist. We need scientists to build our nation, science education is key to sustainable development, and we cannot run away from it. Sustainable development cuts across environment, economy and social development. Without science you cant have good environment and strong economy. We are crying of recession because we do not have science on ground to give us innovations to move ahead. We are talking about diversification into agriculture and renewable energy; we also need science to achieve that. It is renewable energy that will solve our electricity problems.
“By the way, I did my PhD in renewable energy. I worked on converting oil to bio fuel, and as far back as 2005 that we started this project, we had a presidential committee, as I speak to you, the committee has died out, nobody is talking about renewable energy in the country, but the whole world is going on alternative energy, that is why we are crying in the nation. When there is no light we can switch to an alternative. But if we have invested on science and these innovations, we wont be having all these challenges today.”
Insisting that science education can be used to attain sustainable development, Ezeanyanaso said, the more science-literate individuals there are, the stronger their society.
She said: “A better education in science for your child can also mean better things for the society, by helping students develop into more responsible citizens who help to build a strong economy, contribute to a healthier environment, and bring about a brighter future for everyone. The exposure would excite and enthuse children with a sense of awe and wonder at the natural world. It would make them to be proficient at practical work and use of scientific equipment, as well as help develop pupils’ understanding and experience of the scientific method, by understanding its value and limits, and to enable them to apply the method.”
To overcome the challenges of girl-child education in Nigeria, Ezeanyanaso said: “Well to do individuals can contribute to girl-child education by giving them scholarship to study in higher institutions, provision of school facilities and equipment that can ease their learning effectively, as it contributes to nation building.
“Also, just like the Chinese government, the Nigerian government should practice nine years compulsory girl child education. Nigeria’s negative attitude towards girl child education should be discarded completely. UNICEF policies on equal rights to education should be strictly followed by government at all levels in Nigeria for the enhancement of nation building. Government and non-government agencies should establish more boarding schools for females to discourage parents from the notion of geographical distance, environmental hazards vis-à-vis the vulnerability of the children.”
She also added that socio-cultural and religious factors should not be used as yardsticks to relegate the girl child to the kitchen, while highlighting the need to engage competent teachers that can drive the girl child towards using science education to tackle societal challenges. “Government should put up policies, and when they do that they should stick by such policies, there should be continuation in this country. Again, basic education should be able to sustain individuals since it is not everybody that can go to higher institution, they can use knowledge acquired at basic level to sustain their living.