Our Executive Director – Mrs Oreoluwa Somolu Lesi shared her presentation on Leveraging STEM for Development in Lagos State at a recently held virtual event hosted by Lagos State Science Research and Innovation Council (LASRIC). She was panelist on the virtual event alongside other highly esteemed intellectuals like Prof. Peter Okebukola, Peter Bamkole of Pan Atlantic University, Tomi Davies of Lagos  Angel Network and others. Let learn more from her presentation:

Yesterday, I had the honour of joining the STEM4LAGOS online discussion. It was organised by the Lagos State Science Research and Innovation Council (LASRIC).

The conversation was moderated by ‘Tomi Davies, co-founder of Lagos Angel Network and hosted by Peter Bamkole, director of the Enterprise Development Centre of the Pan Atlantic University and aimed at exploring ways of leveraging Science Technology Maths and Engineering (STEM) for the development of Lagos state.

The panelists cut across academia, government, nonprofits and private sector and included Itoro Emembolu, Ph.D. of TechQuest STEM Academy‘Bosun Tijani of Co-creation Hub Nigeria (CcHUB), Prof Peter Okebukola, the STEM Director at Lagos State UniversityNjideka Jack, Senior Manager of the Transformation Office of MTN Nigeria and Olatubosun Alake, the Special Adviser on innovation and technology to the Governor of Lagos State.

The challenges of teaching and growing the STEM ecosystem are numerous and complex and while we discussed these briefly, we wanted the conversation to focus more on solutions (90 minutes is a short time).

Some of the mentioned challenges were the paucity of quality STEM teachers, lack of access to teaching resources and aids, outdated curriculum and poor curriculum delivery and the gendered dimensions.

I shared the work that the Women’s Technology Empowerment Centre (W.TEC) is doing in raising the next generation of female technology creators, entrepreneurs and leaders through our programmes such as the She Creates Camp, the W.TEC Academy and MentorHer.

I spoke about the specific problems we are trying to address with each programme. So for instance, the She Creates Camp is getting girls excited about STEM through the hands-on workshops they participate in during the 2-week programme. The W.TEC Academy continues to engage the girls all through the year with weekly, practical workshops. MentorHer supports young women who have made the commitment to study for a STEM degree in university by connecting them to mentors in their fields of study, so that they can succeed academically and prepare more intentionally for starting their careers.

I spoke about how pervasive the gender divide in STEM is. Globally only about 35% of all university students studying a STEM degree are women according to UNESCO. In Nigeria, only more than 15% of students admitted to study an Engineering and Technology degree are women. Surveying the girls who attended our She Creates Camp in 2019, 77.6% of them said that they had believed that STEM careers were just for men.

However, our data is showing that our work is making some difference. Over 80% of our alumnae are inspired to pursue a STEM career. About 25% of them are either currently studying a STEM degree or working in a related field.

When asked about what Lagos State can focus on for maximum impact in developing the STEM ecosystem and education, the speakers highlighted a number of important things from making low-cost technology and other resources available to schools to improving teacher quality and the curriculum content.

I spoke about two things.

1. The need for data. You can’t measure your progress if you don’t know where you are starting from or even what success looks like to you. Investing in research is crucial.

2. Understanding how to use technology effectively for teaching and especially to adapting it to our local context. For instance, during this pandemic with the school shut-down, using technology for learning has been translated to moving classes to Zoom. The teaching style is the same online as it is in the classroom and we all know (or at least we now know) that learning online is a completely different experience from learning in a classroom so teaching needs to evolve too.

And we should not be thinking about just using technology to teach STEM subjects, but rather ALL subjects.

One of the questions I answered during the Q and A was from a parent who said their daughter had a very logical mind, but was veering more towards finance. She wanted to know ways to get her interested in STEM.

I responded that I wouldn’t try to force her towards any particular subject, as students tend to excel at subjects that they are naturally interested in. Rather, I suggested that she expose her daughter to as wide a variety of subjects as she could and to find practical, engaging resources to use with her. While learning science subjects teaches us about how life works and helps develops analytical skills, her daughter would benefit from a wide and varied exposure to different subjects and eventually would find what she was most interested in.

The conversation wrapped-up with each speaker asked to highlight 3 key projects they would be working on in 2020.

I shared:

1. Our focus on research: We have already started focusing on gathering more data about the gender and STEM landscape in Nigeria. We embarked on a small sample survey in 2019, are in the middle of another in partnership with TechHerNG and will be doing more of that over the year.

2. Our MakeHer Space programme: Our MakeHer Space programme is a Google.org-funded project to teach technology and increase the creative and problem-solving skills of young women. Thetypical maker spaces are physical spaces where children are able to learn about science and technology through play and by making things. Some maker spaces are not STEM-focused and may include other activities like dress-making. The key thing is that children are learning through play.

3. Improving Effective Online Teaching: At W.TEC, we have been forced to moved some of our programme online. It has not been an easy process and we have been learning as we go along. As the schools shutdown persists and as our programmes are unable to take place in their normal format for the foreseeable future, we need to improve the pedagogy of teaching and learning online.

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It was an invigorating discussion all around. I was glad that we did not spend time recounting all the challenges like some webinars do, but were able to highlight some of our ongoing solutions and share the work that lies ahead. I hope some good collaborations come out of it that helps us extend the scale and sustainability of our work.

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