Globally, new possibilities are being explored to expand the education ecosystem, especially in developing countries, through the use of Technology (Edu-Tech). The interconnectivity of the Internet makes online learning and collaboration seamless and has ushered a new phase of innovations. New models and apps are being developed to solve local and global problems, and create new value chains. Global Digitalization means that access to data, information, and communication channels is easier, faster, more efficient and effective.
The world is now in the era of a 4th Industrial revolution, a knowledge-based, value-driven economy, and the core currency needed to compete in this evolving economy is Human Capital Development; particularly in Soft skills, ICT, Data/Digital literacy, E-skills, Creative Arts and STEM education; an interdisciplinary approach to learning where academic concepts are creatively coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering and mathematics in contexts that make practical connections between school, community, work, and global enterprise, in order to participate effectively in the digital economy, as skilled workers and/or entrepreneurs.
In 2015, with the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs-2030), global leaders confirmed their joint responsibility to contribute to the empowerment of women and girls – also using the potential of ICT-STEM by including two related goals: Goal 4 for Quality Education aims to “… substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs, and entrepreneurship, by 2030” (UN, 2015). Linked to this, Goal 5 is a complementary target to end discrimination against women and girls, particularly in the economic sphere. In part, this is to be achieved by facilitating the use of digital literacy and technologies. They are identified as decisive to the sustainable development goals.
Globally, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), are traditionally not areas of career interest for girls, and it is even worse across Africa, where girls have huge cultural and societal barriers to pursuing STEM-related professions.
In Nigeria, the South East region –SE – (Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo) is also affected by the national challenges of the Educational sector –poor accessibility, quality, accessibility, functionality, and affordability. World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Nigeria 136th out of 137, in Primary Education in the Global Competitive Index Report (2017 -18)
According to National Bureau of Statistics, as at third quarter of 2017, the national unemployment rate was 18.8% (And the combined rate for unemployment and underemployment was 40%). In addition to unemployment, an associated challenge of a dysfunctional educational system is un-employability; Nigerian graduates lack the relevant set of skills, achievements, adaptability, understandings and personal attributes thus, making it difficult to gain employment and to be successful in their chosen occupations or to create jobs. Digital literacy/e-skills and STEM education are keys to improving employability factor.
The militating factors to girl child education in the South East include and is no limited to: poverty, disability, early marriage and pregnancy, and associated risks of poor healthcare and reproductive rights such as obstetrics VVF, gender-based violence, child labour, cultural practices such as female genital mutilation, stigma around menstruation, lack of qualified teachers, lack of infrastructure, proximity of schools to homes, poor Health, Safety & Environmental (HSE) standards, suppressive gender role dynamics, patriarchal societal discrimination and attitudes against the girl child’s status. The gender gap is prevalent in Education and across whole ICT-STEM ecosystem –in access to Education, Start-ups, Technology, and ICT jobs. [In 2017, the ITU -International Telecommunication reported that 12% fewer women than men have access to the Internet].
The integrated STEM Methodology at Nzuko labs seeks to address the following:
- Overcome afore-mentioned barriers and increase access of the girl child to basic quality and affordable education in general, and to STEM education in particular;
- Provide the enabling infrastructure, research into legally backed, regulatory frameworks, long-term plans and policies to increase the level of penetration of digital literacy in the SE so that it is adaptive to innovations, technology and trends in Education;
- Improve quality of Early/Basic Education being offered today in the SE to prepare students for a constantly changing & dynamic world? E.g. UAE’s education reforms introduced Teacher: Student ratios of 1:15; and an age appropriate ICT curriculum is introduced to children in their formative growth phase (5 years old);
- Build in early childhood encounters with technology to help young girls develop digital literacy neurology and confidence over time; re-define/re-design learning environments (offline and online spaces), such that pre- and during adolescence, girls are encouraged to consider employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in the digital sector through curricula (with options in local languages), that stress that STEM subjects are open to all students;
- Improve the life cycle of girls’ and women’s relationship to ICT, as a crucial affective component with implications for their digital sector participation, no matter their ages;
- Fix content accessibility; even when affordable technology access is possible, the challenges for girls and women participating in the digital sector are compounded by content considerations. There is a dearth of localized content for women who are online, that really corresponds to their needs and interests. Address the prevailing distinct lack of content, or content missing in local languages;
- Address obsolete or non-existent STEM curricula, reform disproportionate teacher-student ratios, regurgitation, standardized testing, rote memorization, and lack of equipped laboratories, science kits and hubs, libraries and community centres;
- Narrow the gender digital divide; the economic, cultural stereotypes and socially constructed barriers and inequalities, which impact the ability of girls to study STEM courses and work in the digital sector;
- There is a huge skills mismatch between the training provided to students in the current Technical and Vocational colleges or Tertiary education institutions, and the skills that employers seek/need. Engage education and industry practitioners, and manufacturers to effectively address this labour market gaps;
- Develop a supportive eco-system to absorb students who choose to up-skill and create new areas of opportunities in Agriculture, Agronomics, Manufacturing, Healthcare, Education (Edu-Tech), Acquisition, Fin-Tech, Technological innovations, and Entrepreneurship?
- Enhance the ability of girls to create computer programs for various purposes including coding, web development, blogging, mobile apps development, animation programming, simple control circuits, sufficient for self-sustainability of participants, even as secondary school graduates. (Currently, according to JAMB, only 30% applicants get accepted into universities annually, leaving out a huge pool of secondary school certificate holders);
- Address the root factors contributing to poor teacher training for STEM and the recruiting, training and continuous professional development gaps (Education funding, wages, and welfare, curricula reforms, accountability, competent operational management)?
- Ensure there are well-developed networks and supportive structures for continuous mentoring and career advise post-training, in order to stay on track and succeed as future Engineers, Technologists, Data analysts, and Entrepreneurs?
- Mainstream and implement the SDGs, backed by a robust and long-term regulatory framework, in an integrated, measurable approach in the South East. (SDGs 4 -Education- and SDGs 5 -Gender equality-, are mutually reinforcing efforts, aimed at dismantling the gender digital divide. ICT are explicitly mentioned in four SDG sub-goals (education; gender equality; infrastructure, industrialization and innovation; and partnerships), and the innovative solutions they offer feature in initiatives for achieving each of the 17 SDGs);
- Engage with stakeholders in the Education sector (Government, Parents/Guardians, Teachers, Faith-based Institutions, Traditional rulers, organized Private sector, Alumni Associations, Informal sector(s), NGOs, Multilaterals), in the development and implementation of sustainable STEM solutions for the Girl Child.