STEM is an acronym for four specific disciplines-Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. In recent years, STEM has gained focal attention because specific innovations have come from individuals and groups engaged in one or more of its four disciplines, creating solutions to global challenges and empowering lives locally. Notable amongst them are, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, etc.
President Obama describes science (STEM) as “an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world” (Obama 2015)
In Ghana, the 1992 constitution guarantees that all citizens shall be equal, with equal educational opportunities as well as equal responsibilities towards national development but a closer look reveals a lack of gender equality in STEM; men are mostly at the helm of affairs for top innovations in Ghana. I must admit that these male-led innovations are pushing Ghana higher on the international front whiles enhancing local development. A classic example is the award-winning mPedigree by Bright Simons.
STEM is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world
Why it matters
It has become clear that the wheel of innovation is not gender balanced in Ghana. Data projections from the 2010 population and housing census indicates that there are more women in the country than men, implying that there are equally more brilliant women in the country who could have done better than the men or at least matched up to similar heights. After all, our elders have always said that “what man can do, woman can do better”-a good reason why the UN is calling for gender equality through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 5).
The gap here is that education has been here for so long yet there is no gender equality in STEM. Few women are engaged actively in STEM, and utilizing their talents in innovations for national development.
This Sad phenomenon can be attributed partly to Ghana’s long-held patriarchal beliefs, which have for many years brainwashed thousands of smart women into believing that their worth ends once they step away from the kitchen. Thankfully, all is not lost and Ghana is rising with more women in STEM, contributing to national development equally as men do.
How to achieve equality is the puzzle of the day stakeholders are trying relentlessly to solve.
Research shows that in middle school, 74% of girls express interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), but when choosing a college major, only 0.4% of high school girls select computer science (Girls who code, 2016)
How do we get that 74% of our girls who express interest in STEM hooked right from childhood to adulthood?
The problem isn’t lack of focus; it’s that we haven’t won the hearts of students
….says Barbara McAllister, Intel Corporation.
There is enough evidence suggesting that both men and women have the same potential to love and perform excellently in STEM if we win their hearts early and give them the right support. Confirming this to CNN, a Ghanaian female Tech Giant-Regina Agyare had this to say, “When I was young, I was very interested in science and technology and my dad brought home the first computer. I played Pac man and I was hooked!.” Today, her company is one of the best Tech Social enterprises in the country, winning best startup in that category in the 2016 Ghana startup awards.
Reflecting on Kwegyir Aggrey’s statement, “if you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation”, there is evidence of good news cooking in Ghana. The good news is that the few women in STEM are doing their best to open the gate for more women to enter the system. The likes of Regina Agyare, Lucy Quist, Josephine Marie, etc. are inspiring cutting-edge projects that engage young girls in STEM and developing their skills and interests for STEM as they grow.
The way forward
To achieve gender equality in STEM, we have to win the hearts of our girls, together with the boys, by providing equal opportunity for practical engagements.
Government should design a comprehensive policy and budgetary commitment to promote STEM engagements in our educational system to enhance experience that is more practical rather than juggling many subjects together in schools. Instead of skewing efforts towards one gender, we should target all.
A time has come for corporate Ghana to make investments in STEM, investments beyond taking a back seat and applauding a few individuals. The media also has the role of sensitization to clear misconceptions surrounding women in STEM, to enable younger girls gain more confidence and clarity to pursue their dreams. More and more women still have to face condescending views about them when they choose STEM even in the developed world. This is what Marissa Mayer, former engineer at Google had to say in an interview with the CNN:
“People ask me all the time: ‘What is it like to be a woman at Google?’ I’m not a woman at Google, I’m a geek at Google. And being a geek is just great. “I’m a geek, I like to code, I even like to use spreadsheets when I cook.”
I believe that Parents and Teachers are central in this pursuit of winning more female hearts for STEM but what has the Government of Ghana done to produce more geeks like Marissa for the country?
In 2009 the government of Ghana instituted the Mathematics, Science and Technology Scholarship Scheme (MASTESS), aimed at providing financial bursaries to students both male and female, to pursue STEM courses from the Senior High School level to tertiary level. It is however very sad that my checks while writing this article revealed that funds have not been released for the past two years and some beneficiaries have had to go through harsh treatments from school authorities due to inability to pay their fees.
Despite this major failure on the part of government, hopes are still alive because there are several organizations that are working to bring this vision of gender equality in STEM into reality.
Below is a highlight of some notable projects and organizations promoting STEM among young girls and grooming them for STEM jobs in future.
- Young at Heart Project
- Airtel’s evolve with STEM Initiative
- The Vodafone Scholar Project
- Soronko solutions’ Tech Needs Girls
- The RiSE Project by Ghana Robotics Academy Foundation
- SiSTEM Project by STEMBees
- Level UP Village’s STEM Global Scientists course in Ghana
- The SHAPE Project by GHScientific
STEM has come to stay and the earlier our society starts working towards gender equality in STEM, the better for the country’s development. If consistent collaborative efforts and investments from all sectors continue, then there is hope that in the next few decades, women in Ghana will do better in STEM than their male counterparts.