PHOTO: Participants at the STEM Summer Camp in Warri. The program facilitator, Tse Uwejamomere, is standing 5th on the front roll (in hair breads).
Two groups of Nigerian teenagers meeting at separate locations in the North East and South-South regions of the country have jointly called for the promotion of STEM in schools to boost Nigeria’s chances of achieving sustainable development in the face of the galloping population growth. The two groups of students met at STEM Summer Camps hosted in Kaduna and Warri.
STEM is a term used to collectively refer to a group of subjects which are all about applying logic and theories in innovative and creative ways. These are Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) with variations including Art (STEAM) and Medicine (STEMM).
The 3-Day STEM Summer Camp held in Warri, last week, was a mix of 25 students, 14 girls and 11 boys, drawn from nine schools from Benin, Ashaka, Ughelli and Warri. They met under the auspices of the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND), to raise the students’ awareness on the engineering strand of STEM with a focus on energy, something quite relevant to the students to show that they can start innovating ways to improve their standard of living – the aim of engineers.
“These subjects are at the forefront of our rapidly growing and advancing world hence it is important to ensure that there are enough people who are going into these professions to sustain this growth. In addition to this, the number of girls who are going into these fields needs to rapidly increase to see a sustained social effect. The aim of this camp is to support this. The programme is perhaps the first STEM Camp in the Niger Delta Region”, according Ms Florence Agbejule, Operations Manager, who also manages PIND’s Appropriate Technology Enabled Development (ATED) Demonstration Centre, in Egbokodo-Itsekiri, Warri, last week. The ATED Demonstration Centre is a living research tool and demonstration of many appropriate technologies. PIND’s ATED program strives to identify, develop, and adapt technologies that are appropriate for the Niger Delta region, share knowledge and encourage adoption.
The STEM Summer Camp programme is the initiative of Tsemaye (Tse) Uwejamomere, a 17-year-old student who said: “In the world today there is still a stereotype that maths, science and engineering are for boys and that women are meant to stay at home and raise children and cook food. However, for there to be real, sustained advancement, in developing countries especially, girls need to be empowered in the same ways boys are empowered to get creative and take charge of creating a better world for themselves and generations to come after them”.
Hence, she said, “the strapline for the project is: ‘I am smart. I am strong. I am able.’ – a declaration the girls will make to themselves inspiring them to believe that they can go on and do amazing things contrary to pre-conceived ideas about the roles of females in society.”
Tse facilitated the Warri STEM Camp, hosted at the ATED Demonstration Centre in collaboration with Hopes and Dreams Initiative and GreenKnowledge Foundation. Two NGOs promoting sustainable development through the development of school libraries, Environmental school clubs and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in schools. Tse had also, in the first week of August, facilitated a Kaduna STEM Summer Camp for 20 students of the Queen Amina College, Kaduna, in collaboration with Hopes and Dreams Initiative and the authorities of Queen Amina College, Kaduna.
According to her, “we understand that having the knowledge or the ability to do amazing things is not the only barrier in allowing girls to break into the STEM field. A strong, female, role model in the STEM sector is of upmost importance for girls to realise they too can become STEM professionals. If girls are constantly bombarded with male mechanics, engineers, technicians, computer specialist etc. they will think that STEM and male as synonymous. Even just seeing one female, who looks like them, will indirectly send a message to them that actually, STEM is for everyone.”
The girls were taken through ice-breaker activities during the first day, then the end of camp discussion on the last day as well as the continual informal interactions throughout the three days, to allow them get to know the facilitator as well as each other to help them see that though we are all different and unique, we are all girls and we are all capable.
Mrs Larai Siman, the principal of Queen Amina College, Kaduna, said an added value of the project was the opportunities for girls of similar age groups to work together in a creative, innovative way to learn about science and produce various windmills in groups which generated electricity. The girls further discovered, through their own work that science results in real life impact.
However, it does not just stop there, Tse said. She added that “before girls can get to the point in their life where they choose to pursue a career in the STEM industry, they must first gain the fundamental knowledge acquired during secondary education. Unfortunately, far too often, for girls in Nigeria, this is disrupted periodically, once a month for a few days, in unison with their menstruation cycles.”
A taboo around menstruation can see girls suffer while managing their menstruation is silence, often using any random item they can find to stop their periods from leaking, and often, these are not safe or hygienic solutions. A fear of staining can cause girls to stay off of school for a couple of days every month totalling a huge amount of time missed from school thus impacting their education. Some girls drop out of school altogether due to menstruation.
Hence, the Kaduna STEM Camp identified this as an issue which was addressed during the programme to help assist the girls on their journey. This was covered on the last day, after the girls have gotten familiar with everyone else involved on the programme and were at ease to address such issues.
However, the Warri STEM Camp was attended by both boys and girls. Mr. Weyinmi Okotie, of GreenKnowledge Foundation, said the need to encourage boys into STEM in the Niger Delta is as pertinent as those for girls as the challenges of sustainable environmental management in the region is pressing. This has an indirect impact on boys’ attendance in schools with community activism becoming a major distraction to boys’ education.
The Warri Camp attracted students from Nana Model College, Warri (six); Dore Numa College, Warri (five students); Essi College, Warri (five); Aunty Mercy Private School, Warri (two); and one student each from Federal Government College, Warri; College of Education Demonstration College, Warri; Standard High School, Warri; Stella Maris Secondary School, Ashaka; Government College, Ughelli; and, Deeper Life High School, Benin.
By Marc Philips