Globally, access to digital literacy and the internet helps societies improve, especially economically. However, in Nigeria (especially Northern Nigeria), about 55% of husbands disapprove of their wives using the internet, and about 61% of fathers discourage their daughters from having access to it (Centre for Information Technology and Development 2016 (CITAD)). This is one of the reasons for the wide digital gender gap we see in the country. Again, this discrepancy in the digital space is further fuelled by a lower enrollment rate than men in technology and engineering courses in Nigerian universities.
The STEMPOSIUM series, which began on July 11, 2023, and ended on July 26, 2023, was held in 24 rural secondary schools in the northern, eastern, and western parts of Nigeria. The STEMPOSIUM series aimed to contribute to the reduction of the early explained gender digital divide. Hence, in each of the 24 secondary schools, the basics of computer literacy were taught. All the schoolgirls were trained on how to operate a computer at the beginner level. More discussions were held on the importance of not just being computer literate, especially with the world advancing to the use of AI, but becoming experts with an early budding interest. More emphasis was placed on debunking the myth engrained in most Nigerian female girls that digital technology and STEM literacy are for the male gender.
Apart from digital skills and literacy, another major characteristic of the STEMPOSIUM series is understanding scientific theories. Reports from the girls showed that their bias towards STEM is also a result of thinking about STEM fields as hard processes. So, the STEMPOSIUM series adapted a method of breaking down scientific terms and theories into easily understandable and relatable activities. Theories like Pascal’s and Boyle’s laws, which explain air pressure, capillary action (the walking water experiment), the oil water experiment to explain the immiscibility of molecules, the egg drop challenge to explain gravity, and Bernoulli’s principle, among others, were used to debunk these ideologies that STEM fields were more difficult and skewed towards the male gender.
Taking Bernoulli’s principle, for example, the schoolgirls learned that the venturi of a carburetor, which regulates the air and fuel mixture for more fuel and movement, and the lift of an airplane wing due to pressure above and below being regulated are results of this theory. Still, understanding that the concept is crucial for fluid control and measurement, even in nozzles used in pipes and injections, piqued the interests of the students. “How can straws, balloons, reusable bottles, soda, food coloring, cartons, etc., be used to explain complex terms in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics?” was a major question the girls kept asking.
In the end, the STEMPOSIUM series was a huge success. Although the interests of the secondary schoolgirls have been steered towards the STEM field, it takes more investment to sustain the interest. With lifelong learning being as paramount as the quality of education itself today, STEM education (including digital literacy) and a supporting system of sustainability are equally important.
One thing is sure, every stakeholder needs to redouble their efforts in order to train females to be agents of change in every sphere of society, beginning with STEM inclusion.
Special thanks goes to all the schools visited (Life Spring College, Akure, Ondo State; United CAC Grammar School, Akure, Ondo State; Adifase High School, Ibadan, Oyo State; Akpugoeze Schools, Enugu State; Asero High School, Abeokuta, Ogun State; Ata-Oja School of Science, Osun State; Concentric International Group of Schools, Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State; Eyinni High School Junior and Senior, Ibadan,Oyo State; Fiwasaye Girls Grammar School, Akure, Ondo State; Baptist High School, Imo State; Itamerin Comprehensive High School, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State; Kawefunmi School, Sagamu, Ogun State; Transatlantic International School, Sagamu, Ogun State; Molete Baptist College, Ibadan, Oyo State; NUT Secondary School, Ibadan, Oyo State; Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Catholic School, Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State; Urban Day Secondary School, Ile-Ife, Osun State; Salawu Abiola Comprehensive Junior High School, Abeokuta, Ogun State; St. Augustine Comprehensive High School, Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State; Covenant College, Ibadan, Oyo State; Government Girls Day Science School, Minna, Niger State; and Government Girls Primary School WEC, Minna, Niger State), facilitators, and volunteers of The Sapphires Development Initiative for making the dream work!
STEMposium Series! Engineering STEM Education in Nigeria!!!