Women still missing in science and Mathematics
South Africa, May 16 -- Women still missing in science and Mathematics
By Pamela Kyando
Ivony Nedambele remembers the exact day she decided to be a science student. She still remembers who inspired her.
“I was inspired by a Dr who lives in my community,” she says “He comes from a poor background just like me, and I wanted to be like him” she says, “And I am the only girl in my community doing science” she says.
As she explains, Nedambele is one of the few women doing science in South Africa. And the fact that she was inspired by a male Dr instead of a female one is not an accident.
According to the Women in Engineering Organisation, their latest data (2005), the number of graduates in science in South Africa is small. The number of female graduates in engineering at the university level was 329 compared to 1139 that of male graduates in the same field. In the same data, the number of female technicians graduates was 870, compared to 3 170 that of males.
The UNESCO Assessment of Women Scientists’ Participation in 2011 shows that, the total number of female enrolment in Science, Engineering and Technology out of ten universities in Kenya was 12%, in Tanzania it was 17%, the enrolment was in 18% and 27% in Uganda and Rwanda respectively.
In South Africa however, the data from the Department of Education from 2009 to 2011 shows that the number of female students who did Mathematics and Physical Sciences at Metric is higher than the number of male doing the same subjects. But the pass rate of the male students is higher than that of the female.
The number of females who achieved 30% and above in Mathematics in South Africa at Metric in 2009 was 42.4% compared to 50.2% that of males, in 2010 it was 43.5% compared to 52.1% of males and in 2011 it was 41.9% compared to 51.3% of males.
In Physical Sciences in 2009, 34.3% of girls passed the subjects, compared to 39.5 of males. In 2010 it was 45.7% of females to 50.2% of males and in 2011, it was 50.2% of females who passed compared to 56.8% of males.
In other words more than twice the numbers of female students enrol in Mathematics and Physical Science each year compared to approximately 7000 students at Rhodes. And nearly the total number of Rhodes student achieve 30% and above.
In Britain, only 40% of females enrolled in Chemistry in 2011 at secondary level, compared to 60% of boys. And only 20.8% enrolled in Physics compared to that of 79% of boys in 2011. Out of this, 31.25% of females graduated in Maths to 68.8%of male. And 22.8% graduated in science to 77.2% of males. Only 31.2% of female got the A grade in Maths, compared to 68.8% of male.
There are numerous challenges that discourage girls and women from studying Mathematics and science.
“What you believe and what culture believes about your potential, very often affects your potential and achievements” says Retired Anthropology Professor Michael Whisson.
This explains the societal stereotyping of what is regarded as more ‘female’ and more ‘male’ subjects.
The lack of proper equipment and tools to facilitate learning in science is another challenge that discourages women to go into the field.
The failure of teachers to motivate and stimulate girls to want to take science subjects, also affects girls desire to study and want to be scientists.
“I had a good experience in my school,” says Khanani Godi Bachelor of Science Honours student at Rhodes University “My school had a science lab, equipment and dedicated teachers,” she says.
Successful female scientists are needed for the young women to look up to.
Promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women is one of the Millennium Development Goals that all countries have ratified to. And part of this empowerment is ensuring women participate fully in the technological development of our world.
Education is a basic human right that all human being need to enjoy.
The world is increasingly becoming technological and scientific and in order for women get jobs in the field, their involvement in research and solutions finding, is all dependent on their level and quality of education.
Looking for a way out
There are a number of efforts done by different groups, to try and improve women's representation in the science subjects.
Those efforts include: The affirmative action in Uganda, which offers a 2.5 point advantage for girls in accessing scholarships for science education at university level.
In South Africa, there is the incentive scheme, which is part of Youth into Science Strategy by the Department of Science and Technology, which gives incentive bursaries to students studying science at university.
The annual International Women in Physics Conference was conducted in South Africa in 2011, which was seen as "an indispensable step in practical implementation and in strengthening efforts to remove imbalances and obstacles,of issues related to attracting,retaining and improving the status of women in Physics."
UNESCO world conference on Higher Education 1998 vowed to make higher education to be equally accessible to all and to promote the participation of women in higher education in all disciplines in which they are underepresented.
Despite these efforts however, the numbers have remained low, as the data shows.
All is not lost however, as the two Rhodes student explain.
“I want to be a micro- biologist,” says Nedambele “I want to learn about all the diseases caused by bacteria,” she says “And maybe I could change the world!” she adds.
“I get excited to figure out an equation and make a discovery in an experiment,” says Godi “For me science is not boring at all,” she says “And my desire is to be recognized as a leading female scientist one day,” she says.
For Nedambele and Godi the fight still goes on.
Useful links: click here
The department of education