Globally, new possibilities are being explored to expand the education ecosystem, especially in developing countries, through the use of Technology (Edu-Tech). The interconnectivity of the Internet makes online learning and collaboration seamless and has ushered a new phase of innovations.
New models and apps are being developed to solve local and global problems, and create new value chains. Global Digitalization means that access to data, information, and communication channels are easier, faster, more efficient and effective.
The world is now in the era of a 4th Industrial revolution, a knowledge-based, value-driven economy, and the core currency needed to compete in this evolving economy is Human Capital Development; particularly in Soft skills, ICT, Data/Digital literacy, E-skills, Creative Arts and STEM education; an interdisciplinary approach to learning where academic concepts are creatively coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering and mathematics in contexts that make practical connections between school, community, work, and global enterprise, in order to participate effectively in the digital economy, as skilled workers and/or entrepreneurs.
In 2015, with the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs-2030), global leaders confirmed their joint responsibility to contribute to the empowerment of women and girls – also using the potential of ICT-STEM by including two related goals: Goal 4 for Quality Education aims to “… substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship, by 2030” (UN, 2015).
Linked to this, Goal 5 is a complementary target to end discrimination against women and girls, particularly in the economic sphere. In part, this is to be achieved by facilitating use of digital literacy and technologies. They are identified as decisive to the sustainable development goals.
Globally, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), are traditionally not areas of career interest for girls, and it is even worse across Africa, where girls have huge cultural and societal barriers to pursuing STEM-related professions.
The South East region of Nigeria – (Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo) is also affected by the national challenges of the Educational sector –poor accessibility, dwindling quality, lack of equity or inclusivity, gaps in functionality and lack of affordability. World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Nigeria 136th out of 137, in Primary Education in the Global Competitive Index Report (2017 -18). Based on the most recent report for the survey period of 2010 to 2015, there are currently 13.2 Million out of school children in Nigeria (Source: UNICEF). Of this number, there are approximately six hundred thousand are from the South East.
According to National Bureau of Statistics, as at third quarter of 2017, the national unemployment rate was 18.8% (And the combined rate for unemployment and underemployment was 40%). In addition to unemployment, an associated challenge of a dysfunctional educational system is un-employability; Nigerian graduates lack the relevant set of skills, achievements, adaptability, understandings and personal attributes thus, making it difficult to gain employment and to be successful in their chosen occupations or to create jobs. Digital literacy/e-skills and STEM education are keys to improving employability factor.
Gender gap is prevalent in Education and across whole ICT-STEM ecosystem –in access to Education, Start-ups, Technology, and ICT jobs. [In 2017, the ITU -International Telecommunication reported that 12% fewer women than men have access to the Internet].
The militating factors to girl child education in the South East, and Nigeria in general include and is not limited to: poverty, child labour, disability, early marriage and pregnancy, and associated risks of poor healthcare and reproductive rights such as obstetrics VVF, gender-based violence, child labour, cultural practices such as female genital mutilation (Ebonyi has the second highest prevalence rate of FGM in Nigeria), cultural stigma around menstruation, and lack of access to sanitary products (especially in poor, rural and under-served communities).
Other barriers and challenges include poorly trained and poorly remunerated teachers, lack of infrastructure such as toilets and water, degree of proximity of schools to homes, poor Health, Safety & Environmental (HSE) standards, suppressive gender role dynamics, patriarchal societal discrimination and systemic unhealthy attitudes against the status of women and the girl-child. It is important to note that even though the five states in the South East Region have domesticated the Child Rights Act (CRA), the implementation across all five states is still mostly very poor.
The team was led by their mentor, Uchenna Onwuamaegbu Ugwu. [The team was comprised of: Promise Nnalue; Jessica Osita; Nwabuaku Ossai; Adaeze Onuigbo; Vivian Okoye].
It seemed like the Government would finally pay more attention to the issue of Girl-Child Education (including STEM), in Nigeria, specifically in the South East.
However, in a recent interview granted by Uchenna Onwuamaegbu Ugwu on Tech Trends (Channels TV), she more or less disclosed that the Government is still not taking a holistic and urgent approach to STEM Education in its intervention across the region. This begs the question, what needs to be done?
An integrated, strategic STEM Methodology and roll-out plan, should seek to address the following:
- To overcome the afore-mentioned barriers and increase access of the girl child to basic quality and affordable education in general, and to STEM education in particular, it is imperative for leaders in Nigeria, especially in the South East to invest in accurate data. The South East has a well established network of town unions. This could be leveraged organically, to get the information in each community, match data to actual names, obtain biometrics and develop targeted interventions, through pilots, that are measurable and can then be scaled up;
- A need for all relevant stakeholders to implement the Child Rights Act, Nigeria; this includes the state houses of assembly, social services department, judiciary and police (as first responders when infractions occur). This would require heightened awareness of the provisions and consequences of the CRA, to parents, guardians, teachers, religious bodies and all organizations involved in the care of children.
- People learn better in safe spaces, especially the girl-child. There have been reported and verified cases of cultism, bullying and widespread sexual assault in some secondary schools in the South East. There is a need to ensure there are preventative measures put in place, and rehabilitative processes and professionals to offer psycho-social support to victims and all students. Robust safe school initiatives should be implemented regionally. Currently, across Nigeria, only Lagos has a well developed, responsive and structured Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT). It would be useful for the South East Region to adopt and adapt their methodologies, and possibly improve upon them;
- Provide the enabling infrastructure such as electricity (renewable energy sources), fast, accessible, reliable broadband connection, legally backed, regulatory frameworks, long-term plans and stable policies in order to increase the level of penetration of digital literacy in the South East so that it is adaptive to innovations, technology and trends in Education;
- Improve quality of Early and Basic Education being offered today in the South East to prepare students for a constantly changing & dynamic world. E.g. United Arab Emirates’s education reforms introduced Teacher: Student ratios of 1:15; and an age appropriate ICT curriculum is introduced to children in their formative growth phase (5 years old);
- Build in early childhood encounters with technology to help young girls develop digital literacy neurology and confidence over time. This include, but is not limited to investing in community libraries and maker-spaces; re-defining/re-designing learning environments (offline and online spaces), such that pre- and during adolescence, girls are encouraged to consider employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in the digital sector through curricula (with options in local languages), that stress that STEM subjects are open to all students;
- Improve the life cycle of girls’ and women’s relationship to ICT, as a crucial affective component with implications for their digital sector participation, no matter their ages;
- Fix content accessibility; even when affordable technology access is possible, the challenges for girls and women participating in the digital sector are compounded by content considerations. There is a dearth of localized content for women who are online, that really corresponds to their needs and interests. Address the prevailing distinct lack of content, or of content missing in local languages;
- Address obsolete or non-existent STEM curricula, reform the forming: disproportionate teacher-student ratios, regurgitation, standardized testing, rote memorization, and lack of – equipped laboratories, science kits and hubs, libraries and community centres;
- Narrow the gender digital divide; the economic, cultural stereotypes and socially constructed barriers and inequalities, which impact the ability of girls to study STEM courses and work in the digital sector. In the classrooms, these can be reduced significantly by including age-appropriate Reproductive and Sexual Health, Gender Responsive/Sensitive pedagogies(GRP) in the curricula, from the imprint, formative and socialization phases;
- There is a huge skills mismatch between the training provided to students in the current Technical and Vocational colleges or Tertiary education institutions, and the skills that employers seek/need. Engage education and industry practitioners, and manufacturers to effectively address these labour market gaps;
- Develop a supportive eco-system to absorb students who choose to up-skill and create new areas of opportunities in Agriculture, Agronomics, Manufacturing, Healthcare, Education (Edu-Tech), Acquisition, Fin-Tech, Technological innovations and Entrepreneurship;
- Enhance the ability of girls to create computer programs for various purposes including coding, web development, blogging, mobile apps development, animation programming, simple control circuits, sufficient for self-sustainability of participants, even as secondary school graduates. (Currently, according to JAMB, only 30% applicants get accepted into universities annually, leaving out a huge pool of secondary school certificate holders);
- Address the root factors contributing to poor teacher training for STEM and the recruiting, training and continuous professional development gaps (Education funding, wages and welfare, curricula reforms, accountability, competent operational management, corruption, lack of political will, patronage system, unions);
- Ensure that there are stringent laws to protect teachers’ wages, welfare and to ensure consistency, this means that no teacher would be owed salaries. For instance, making it an impeachable offence to owe any teacher. This would also apply to pension payments for retired teachers;
- Create a structured volunteer program for exceptional retired teachers who are still willing and able to teach, train and mentor other teachers, especially new graduate teachers. Create more incentives, professional development programs, awards programs etc., all geared towards making teaching a preferred vocation;
- Ensure there are well-developed networks and supportive structures for continuous mentoring and career advise post training, in order to stay on track and succeed as future Engineers, Technologists, Data analysts and Entrepreneurs;
- Mainstream and implement the SDGs, backed by a robust and long-term regulatory framework, in an integrated, measurable approach in the South East. (SDGs 4 -Education- and SDGs 5 -Gender equality-, are mutually reinforcing efforts, aimed at dismantling the gender digital divide. ICT are explicitly mentioned in four SDG sub-goals (education; gender equality; infrastructure, industrialization and innovation; and partnerships), and the innovative solutions they offer feature in initiatives for achieving each of the 17 SDGs);
- Revisiting the Imuahia model (for females); similar to the existing home-grown Igbo apprenticeship-incubation for boys, this is envisaged as boarding institutions for girls, that combines both formal and informal teaching techniques. Make the curricula relatable and pragmatic, using raw materials and tools in their environment to build science-technology kits, develop innovative and home-grown solutions, and to solve problems in their communities. It is suggested that this apprenticeship model offers a shorter duration for training programs than traditional Universities, – any where between nine months to three years, primarily focused on a curriculum with a strong bias towards STEM, Leadership, and Entrepreneurship.This would have a sustainable business model built around it, which provides seed funding, direct mentorship linkages between established players in the industry and students of the program, even post-graduation. It could also be a good way to absorb the millions of students who do not get admissions into traditional Universities, due to JAMB constraints, the low carrying capacities of Universities and/or those who are unable to attend Universities because of the cost;
- Study other models that have worked in different parts of the world. Adapt and adopt relevant areas and model. Example, Rwanda’s investment in “Leaders in Teaching” Program focused on STEM training. It has Gender Responsive Pedagogies (GRP), included in the curricula. And the training is for both existing teachers and undergraduate students in Education;
- A need to constantly engage with stakeholders in the Education sector (Government, Parents/Guardians, Teachers, Faith-based Institutions, Traditional rulers, organized Private sector, Alumni Associations, Informal sector(s), NGOs, Multi-laterals), in the development and implementation of sustainable STEM solutions for the Girl Child. This requires establishing clear deliverables, painstaking monitoring and evaluations, incentives and rewards for states and/or schools that meet or exceed goals and continuous improvement of the entire education value chain/ecosystem.
- Finally, even though the role of government is critical in the reform of our Public School Education system, Political leaders have not been as responsive as the situation requires. Thus, while different stakeholders continue to advocate and lobby for Government intervention, there is also an urgent need for the Private sector to step in and begin to lead some of these interventions. The world is not waiting for Nigeria or for the South East Region. Even parts of Africa are leaving us behind.
This piece first appeared as a contribution to NZUKO Labs. It is the first of two parts. This first part focuses on STEM and the second part is on the expansion from STEM to STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics – STEAM]- the often missing, but needed topic of Arts, “A” in STEM.
The concluding part would be shared on March 8, 2020.
Juliet ‘Kego Ume-onyido is a Poet, Leadership Trainer-Consultant and a Passionate Advocate for Social Justice, Gender Equity, Youth Inclusivity and Quality Education for all. Follow her on Twitter