The question of the status of women in the STEM fields remains contentious. I would not be so fake to say many female students like Mathematics. More so, I would not also be so fake to say that Mathematics is easy. Back here in Nigeria, Mathematics teachers are usually termed as “wicked men, strict to the core and good at flogging.” This had built an alarming fear in the heart of many girls.
Going down the history lane, Grace Awani Alele-Williams was the first Nigerian woman to receive a doctorate degree. She also became the first female professor of Mathematics education in 1974 at the University of Lagos. In 1985, she became the first female Vice Chancellor in Africa. In 1004, according to the “Power of Grace” interview in THIS DAY online Nov 16, 2004; she said “I tried to review the teaching of Mathematics in schools, to make sure that the teachers understood the new concept which was already in use in Europe and America. I think we made an appreciable progress. But one of the saddest days of my life was the day the Federal Commissioner announced in 1978 that Modern Mathematics was abolished in schools.” Grace had the passion, zeal and commitment. She had the right spirit to encourage any lady to do Mathematics.
As at 1990, a symposium was held at University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria and a list of African Women in Maths in Africa was compiled and it comprised only 7 women with 3 being from West African countries. In 1986, the African Mathematics Union Commission on Women in Mathematics in Africa (AMUCWMA) was founded. In 1997, Kate Okikiolu became the first black to be awarded Mathematics most prestigious young person’s award and in 2001 she became the first black woman to publish in the best Mathematics journal, The Annals of Mathematics. According to online sources, 1% of all Mathematicians are African, of which 25% are women. Currently, there are only 3 female mathematical professors in Nigeria.
While it is perhaps a sign of revolution, this award certainly sends out a strong message. On the 13th August, 2004, the panel of the 27th International Congress of Mathematics awarded the Fields Medal to a woman, Iranian Maryam Mirzakhani for the first time after almost 70 years. According to a report by the HR Directorate of the French Ministry for Higher Education and Research covering the period 2012-2013, barely 15% of fundamental Mathematics lecturers in French Universities are women.
Possible factors behind the “Yoke of Patriarchy in Mathematics”:
–Fear instilled by parents and guardians: As young girls begin to make career choices, African parents normally try to have the upper hand in the decision making. Most times when the girl wants to choose Mathematics as her area or any mathematics related area, parents and guardians usually discourage them. They begin to tell tales of how tough Mathematics is and how it drives people mental and other stories. These young girls end up going to the medical field or other areas where they may nit even excel as they would have done in Mathematics.
–Poor teachers: The foundations may never be right for women to go into Mathematics if the Mathematics teachers in elementary and high school are not good. Some teachers do not even understand what they are teaching, hence, they cannot explain properly. Some take pleasure in students seeing them as an idol for knowing Mathematics, hence, leave the children in the dark.
–Wrong perspective from the society around us: Honestly speaking, in the African society, Mathematics is under-rated, especially for girls. Girls are asked to do “simpler” courses and go to their husband houses. Girls who want to read Mathematics are told by people around them that men would not want to marry them as they fear that the women will be bossy. These are all superstitions.
I believe in tacking problems from the roots. Therefore, I believe we should employ these measures:
–Checking truancy among youths: Teachers, parents and school authorities should find a way of checking truancy among young girls especially in Mathematics classes.
–Good Mathematics teachers: The teachers should never skip a step thinking the class is following. All points should be explained in detail and all students should be carried along as much as possible. Male mathematics teachers should also not take advantage of female students that come for extra lessons or explanations.
–Encouragement from parents: Parents should encourage any girl child that has a passion for Mathematics. Parents should also try as much as possible to coach any child having difficulty in mathematics. Parents should not send all children that love mathematics to engineering, they can study mathematics and still be successful.
–Female contests and awards: Inter school, national and international competitions should be organized for girls in mathematical field and the STEM field in general. Awards should be given to outstanding female mathematicians and also girls putting in effort to improve on their mathematics. This will go a long way in making girls put in more effort.
–Social media enlightenment: Social media can also be used to enlighten people especially women on the role of Mathematics in the development of a nation. Campaigns such as this particular #Standtall campaign should be promoted to encourage women to break this yoke of patriarchy.
Putting those measures into practice, I believe in the long and short run, the following positive changes will be noticed:
–People will practice Mathematics daily to become outstanding: If my friend always collected the award for being good in mathematics, I would also try my best to at least collect the award once. I would meet her for explanations, meet my teacher, study on my own and put in effort to excel in Mathematics. And who knows, I might just find myself falling in love with Mathematics itself.
–Fear of Mathematics will be eliminated: If parents encourage their daughters to read Mathematics, the fear of the “Almighty mathematics” will be eliminated. Even those who are not so good in Mathematics would not think that mathematics can not be passed with a good grade.
–Those with passion for Mathematics will chase their dreams: The mathematicians-in-the-making will have the zeal to pursue their dreams and make a name like Professor Grace Alele-Williams.
I recommend that more campaigns, contests and awards be launched to encourage women in the mathematical field. I also urge mathematics teachers around Africa especially, to develop a good relationship with the students and not instil fear in their hearts. This would bring many women to the mathematical field.
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