THE fourth RAGA Interdisciplinary Conference Programme is over, however, the points raised at the conference can revolutionise the education sector especially for the girl-child and boost national development over time, if concerned parties act on those points.
RAGA (Raising Girls Ambition) is a non-governmental organisation focused on girl-child issues organised the conference. RAGA is founded by Dr Adepeju Oti. The conference was themed “Equipping Girls for Involvement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) for Sustainable Development”. It held at Lead City University, Ibadan from October 10 to 12, 2018.
Interestingly, the conference attracted the presence of the Oyo State Government and the military in the persons of Mrs Rose Oyedele, Special Adviser to the Governor on Due Process, representing the governor’s wife, and Brigadier General Maina Kadai, representing the GOC of Division 2, Nigerian Army, at the event.
Female students and teachers from secondary schools in Ibadan were in attendance.
Keynote speakers at the conference were Professor Jennifer Weitz, Professor of Astronomy, Paradise Valley Community, College, Arizona, USA. She spoke on “Equipping Nigerian Women and Girls Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics for Sustainable Development.”
Professor of Mathematics, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, Karin Brodie, delivered the first lead paper titled “Equipping Teacher for Inclusive STEM Methodologies for Sustainable Development.”
The second lead paper on “Equipping Girls for Involvement in Physics and Mathematics for Sustainable Development” was delivered by Professor Rabia Salihu Sa’id, a professor of Atmospheric and Space Weather Physics, Bayero University, Kano.
Lead paper three on “Strategies for Gender Sensitive STEM Curriculum for Sustainable Development” was done by Professor of Educational Technology, Ayotola Aremu, of the University of Ibadan.
Dr Oti said the theme was born out of personal experiences as a woman herself and her observation of society. According to her, but for circumstances, she could have been in the sciences while growing up. Also, most females in society seem ordinarily uninterested in gadgets and things technological in nature, hence the need for the girl-child to be encouraged to pay more attention to STEM.
“It has often been said that women have no role models in STEM. But I did my research and found that though not many there are some. Late Professor Dora Akunyili was one, and lately, a woman won the Nobel Prize in Physics some 45 years after Marie Curie. A bird cannot fly with one wing. For the world to move forward, women must be there in STEM.”
She said a woman’s feminine nature to care and nurture could be put to use to produce scientific and technological breakthroughs that bring development, rather than destroy as the male counterparts have done.
She advised curriculum developers to look at the things in the curriculum that hold the girl child back, and modify them to encourage girls to study STEM.
She advised parents who she called “the first teachers of the children” to use the right language, toys and other factors to encourage the girl child to think scientifically and possibly choose a career in STEM.
Brigadier General Kadai expressed happiness that the military was called to be part of the event. He said that with about 50 per cent of the population being female it was important that the girl-child be shown role models, as was done at the conference, of what they could become in life. “We cannot ignore such a huge number of our population that are female.” His message to the girl child was “do not to relegate or stereotype yourself” and “you are one among equals,” so that “you can meet up with the global challenges of the 21st Century.”
Professor Aremu in her paper said there was a need for more women in the sciences based on the uniqueness of womanhood and not just for the sake of gender equality. “Not everybody should be a scientist. People can follow their passion in other areas. But we must ensure that at the foundation, everybody does science.”
She said the learning outcomes from science and scientific attitudes like scepticism, humility and curiosity “work in every profession.”
Professor Aremu added that science process skills like measurement, making an inference and the like learnt in primary schools were useful and could be carried into fields other than science, concluding that “either way, science wins.”
Professor Sa’id said, “It is not about forcing all the girls to do STEM. But for those who are inclined to do STEM, we should encourage them. We must equip them with strategies to remain and pursue it up to career level.”
On teaching methods, she said the use of corporal punishment while teaching STEM subjects especially should be discouraged. “For corporal punishment, it has been experimentally shown that it doesn’t work.
“When teaching a subject like mathematics which they are already anxious about, beating them only makes them more anxious. What we should try to do is look for other strategies that will encourage them and lessen that anxiety that they already have.”
She expressed agreement with Professor Brodie’s research that errors students make in maths “is actually a learning process.”
Professor Brodie in her paper argued that girls including boys must be involved in strategies to learn enough mathematics to produce the scientific development Africa needs. The two main strategies or principles to apply according to her research are: to allow learners to make mistakes, to acknowledge that mistakes are a crucial aspect of learning mathematics, and correct them. The second is for teachers to recognise that students can excel in mathematics through hard work and not just giftedness in the subject. “If you believe you can do it through hard work, those are the fields more women will go into,” the mathematics professor concluded.
Still on the issue of corporal punishment while teaching, Professor Brodie said that research had clearly shown that “the teacher-learner relationship is absolutely the most important to help the learner to learn.
“It is important for the teacher to know that the learner has thoughts and that you can work with those thoughts. What I have seen from my research is that learners want the teachers to care about them. When a teacher starts hitting a learner it tells the learner that the teacher doesn’t care.”
She said hitting a child introduces violence into what should be a mutually respectful learning experience.
From her observations hitting a child does not stop bad behaviour. There should be other methods of punishment which show that it is the child’s behaviour that’s bad and not the child. She said the key thing is to get the learner to like what they are doing. The learner should respect the teacher
“Women and girls are half the global population. With the challenges we are facing as a global society like poverty, limited natural resources, we really must use all the minds available and STEM education is the tool that will enable all our citizens to face those challenges appropriately,” remarked Professor Weitz, in her interview with TribuneOnline on the sidelines of the conference.
“In the United States we see a lower proportion of women and girls engaging in STEM fields so this is a great collaboration to see how we can get women and girls in education and STEM fields.”
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