Academics decry STEM education gender gap

STEM Girls 2019

The participation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects is still very low in Botswana, says University of Botswana Faculty of Engineering Deputy Dean, Dr Olefile Molwane.

Dr Molwane was speaking at a Women in STEM Seminar held in Gaborone on September 13, 2019. He regretted that professions in engineering and technology were still regarded as a “no go area” for women while others such as nursing were considered exclusive for women.

He lamented that the socialisation process as well as traditional roles assigned to the upbringing of the girl child were still determinants of the level of participation by girls in STEM subjects.

“The culture learned directly or indirectly, to a large extent, determines how the person thinks and feels or directs his or her actions and defines his or her outlook in life,” said Dr Molwane

Conversely, Dr Molwane said STEM education was important in human capacity development as well as poverty reduction. He added that closing the gender gap in science was, therefore, critical to national development.

Dr Molwane highlighted that technology and science education were important for men and women alike in that it accelerated the pace of change in a country or world.  He said science, mathematics and technology provided a foundation for wealth creation and development, bringing immense improvement to the quality of life and people’s ability to interpret the world.

The Deputy Dean noted that imparting knowledge on technology to young girls helped to develop their skills as early as possible besides inculcating attitudes necessary for future occupations. Dr Molwane said there was need for collection of gender data reflecting women’s economic, science, technology and maths contributions.

Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) Electrical and Electronics lecturer, Dr Bokani Mtengi, said Botswana should position herself to leverage science, technology, engineering and mathematics for economic advancement. Dr Mtengi also expressed concern over under-representation of woman in STEM subjects.

“Even though there is evidence that women are as capable as their male counterparts, negative stereotyping is still a concern, and has a negative impact on the advancement of women,” observed Dr Mtengi.

She further lamented that negative stereotypes about women and girls studying STEM subjects were among impediments towards an inclusive world where hi-tech solutions solved global problems.

Dr Mtengi said other areas which pulled women back included lack of mentors, taboos around motherhood as well as tremendous pressure on women to prove their worth.  She observed that such was counterproductive as far as women’s participation in the area of STEM was concerned.