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NDDC is working to raise Niger Delta girls' interest in STEM fields - Semenitari Featured

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Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, Ag. MD/CEO, Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and a group of GEMS finalists from the central zone in Port Harcourt recently. Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, Ag. MD/CEO, Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and a group of GEMS finalists from the central zone in Port Harcourt recently. Credits: File copy


The new surveys available to us from around the world indicate that only 14 per cent of girls go into science fields, where there is an equally disturbing inequity, on the increase every year, in the gender distribution of the student population. In Nigeria, particularly in the Niger Delta region, where the numbers are even more dire, boys make up a more significant percentage of enrolments.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the Nigerian population, as at 2013, showed a gender parity of 86,121,532.3 females and 87,754,876.7 males. But, sadly, that is the only area where gender parity exists. For instance, the percentage of enrolment showed a regression in male – female ratio, from primary, secondary to tertiary education in Nigeria. At the work place, the inequity is even more obvious. Between 2010 and 2013, men constituted the bulk of employment at federal and state MDAs. On the average, while there is a 65.5 per cent of men in senior positions in the State Civil Service, women accounted for only 35.5 per cent. The distribution in the private sector is not any more cheering for women.

The same disparity shows up in the percentage distribution of the gender in governance and public service. According to the report, although women make up about half of the electorate, “they continue to be underrepresented at the national, state and local government levels.” By 2011, 93.6 per cent of seats were occupied by men, while women occupied a miserly 6.4 per cent, precluding a great percentage of women from being involved in strategic policy plans, laws and programmes that affect our national life. Similar patterns are depicted at the state and local government levels. It is equally stark in the judiciary, where there are less than 28 per cent of female judges. Only recently, the Nigerian Senate threw out a bill that sought to enthrone gender parity in Nigeria, sadly, in a year dedicated by the United Nations to seeking robust ways necessary to enthroning gender parity.

As tedious – and, perhaps, depressing – as these figures are to recount at this press briefing, they represent an important background to why the Niger Delta Development Commission has invited you here today, to speak about our on-going intervention in the education sector of our beloved region, with particular attention to the STEM fields, that is, science, technology , engineering and mathematics. On Wednesday, at the Atlantic Hall of the Hotel Presidential, Port Harcourt, we are going to hold the Grand Finale of our GEMS programme.

As you may already be aware, GEMS stands for Girls in Engineering, Mathematics & Science, a programme borne out of our desire, as well as our social commitment and responsibility, to bridge the gaps that exist in gender related issues we encounter in our earnest effort to facilitate the sustainable development of the Niger Delta region. Of great importance is the science and technology areas, which are very vital in ensuring that our people begin to play a more definitive role in the oil and gas sector, which predominate activities in the Niger Delta.

The mission of Girls in Engineering, Mathematics and Science, GEMS is to promote innovative, research and standards-based practices, which will encourage students with interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics to thrive in the 21st century global economy. The programme hopes to leverage on its extensive network of expertise, partnerships, resources and experience by providing Niger Delta girls who have shown remarkable brilliance in these areas the needed platform to excel and grow as scientists.

It is no longer a secret that fewer girls go into the sciences in the Niger Delta region. If most jobs in the future would go to science-based job seekers, then our youths are going to lose out, particularly our girls. The business in the Niger Delta is predominantly in science and technology. At present, we still depend on expatriates to do a great percentage of jobs that our people ought to be doing. Besides the constant repatriation of resources, our people are poorly engaged in this sector. That must change, if we are to achieve our mandate of true sustainable regional development.

Why is this the right thing to do? In a recent report, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, states that “STEM skills are crucial to innovation and growth.” The United Nations, in its reports following the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the follow-up summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg in 2002, highlight that for sustainable development to occur, societies must be encouraged to develop the sustainable livelihoods of their people. While we acknowledge that farming and fishing are the traditional livelihoods of the people of the Niger Delta, it is important to note two very important facts: one, oil and gas provide a third, more robust livelihood for the people; and two, farming and fishing need science and technology to realise its great potential.

As a result, our GEMS programme, while helping to bridge the gender gaps in education and related fields, is designed to change the destiny of the Niger Delta, from an economy that is too dependent on rustic, traditional methods to one that embraces the wide and impressive range and possibilities of science and technology. That is the way the world is currently going, from South Africa to Europe, from Asia to the American continents. For once, as a region and as a people, we must determine not to be left behind in this noble pursuit. We must determine to do what is right and proper by our people, and the future.

On Wednesday, I promise you, you are going to encounter very young girls whose works in science and technology will open your eyes to what is possible for this country, when the right things are done. That is the principle and strategic policy thrust of the Federal Government, under President MuhammaduBuhari, which we must tap into, to achieve the change that we must, for the good of our people. That is the right thing to do.

On Wednesday, gentlemen of the press, you are also going to see something more. We believe that science and technology can become exciting again, for our young ones. GEMS presents a healthy competition that helps our girls interpret science in such a way that we can use science, in a glamorous way, to do every day things, and resolve every day challenges. The 30 finalists, all from SSS1 and SSS2, are beginning to see the practicality of science, even at that young age, and it becomes a foundation upon which they and other children of the Niger Delta, as well as the schools in the region, will build our collective future. That is why, as part of this programme, the school that produces the first prize winner will get a chemistry laboratory, while the second and third schools will get a physics and biology laboratory, respectively. We are also going to reward the girls with prizes, such as laptops.

These finalists were selected from a rigorous elimination process that began with 2880 girls from the nine NDDC mandate states. From this first screening test 1110 girls were selected. From the 1110, 270 were selected at 30 girls per state. They progressed to the state finals, where 10 girls qualified from each state, leading to the regional finals, where 10 girls were selected from each of the three regions. Of the 30 who will participate in the grand finale, 10 would be selected for recognition, while the top five will receive awards, prizes and scholarships.

As you are also aware, the Commission is involved in offering post-graduate scholarship to Niger Delta students in science and technology, to equip them with knowledge and skills that would ensure they actively participate in the oil and gas sector, not just in the region, but nationally and globally. GEMS offers to begin building this foundation from a very early stage, so that in the future, we have a region that takes care of its opportunities, as well as regenerates its environment. Only then can we begin to achieve our mandate, of a region that is socially stable, politically peaceful, economically prosperous and ecologically regenerative.

Thank you for your time.

Read 2678 times Last modified on Monday, 04 April 2016 16:23

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