Thursday, July 5, 2007

GENDER INEQUITY IN SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS EDUCATION IN AFRICA: THE CAUSES, CONSEQUENCES, AND SOLUTIONS




GENDER INEQUITY IN SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS EDUCATION IN AFRICA: THE CAUSES, CONSEQUENCES, AND SOLUTIONS

Asimeng-Boahene, Lewis
Over the past years, a large body of scholarly literature has developed to address gender inequity in the developed world, and suggestions for reducing the gender gap are well documented in the literature. However, still lacking in research is why there is gender inequity in mathematics and science education in African schools. Girls are not receiving the same quality, or even quantity, of education as their male classmates in both subjects. This article discusses this gender bias, the discriminatory policies, and the consequences. It also suggests several promising strategies for discovering long-term solutions to this problem.

Introduction

Science and technology have long been recognized as the cornerstone of development and prosperity of Africa. Economic prosperity of African countries is interlinked with its skillful utilization and management of science and technology. This underscores the importance of skilled human resources in the science, mathematics and technology fields in Africa. However, while the benefits of science and mathematics education for women in sustainable social and economic development are numerous in some major parts of the world, Africa still lags behind other continents in terms of provision of science and mathematics education for girls. Female education and training in Africa is generally characterized by lower performance and achievement levels than those of boys, especially in mathematics, science and other technical subjects (Gachukia & Kabira, 1991).

A closer look at the factors reveals that the problem continues as it has not yet occupied a prominent place in Africa's educational circles. Several contributing factors are addressed in this paper and they include the early childhood environment, family expectations, societal image, gender stereotypes, and the school environment and gender issues in Africa. The paper further addresses the consequences of this disparity for Africa and finally offers some recommended solutions including accommodating various learning styles and perspectives, connecting science concepts to life experiences, promoting an environment of self-confidence and success, providing students with female role models, effective networking, advocating gender-fair materials, gender-based affirmative action, conducting workshops and in-service training for science teachers and finally advocating for effective official government polices and involvement.

THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES ON GENDER ISSUES

Of late one of the most active debates in academia has been on nature versus nurture controversy and this dispute is so controversial the opposing sides almost never discuss them. It is in view of these different schools of thought that one finds Harvard's President Lawrence Summers' recent statement that women might be intrinsically disadvantaged in studying science and mathematics (Reid, 2003; Fogg, 2005a; Fogg, 2005b), which has generated strong public debate very fascinating. One school of thought about the differences between men's and women's brains believes Summers' remarks have merit because due to physical development of their brains, males have better developed visual spatial ability than girls (see Child & Smithers, 1971); thus, women suffer from a genetic deficit, and that biological differences between men and women really can account for some of the under-representation of women in some fields of science (see Gray, 1981 ). According to this philosophical framework, 'women lack the basic intellectual equipment' to profit from science education. Thus, they attribute gender inequity in academic performance in science and mathematics to genetics (Benbow & Stanley, 1980; Gray, 1981), and not surprisingly, individuals who subscribe to this position are reluctant to commit resources to serve the needs of women.

However, another school of thought advocates that there is substantial research that provides clear and compelling evidence that women, like men, flourish in science when they are given the opportunity and a supportive environment. This scholarship had polished off the genetic deficit predisposition with a view that the sexes are equal enough in their intellectual abilities that any biological differences between them is vastly outweighed by social pressures and discrimination that discourage girls and women from pursuing science and mathematics (see Jahoda, 1979). Thus, to this paradigm, scientists are made not bom as scientific knowledge requires years of education and training and that women lack behind because they do not have 'cognitively stimulating environment' for science education (; Linn & Hyde, 1989; Hyde, Fennema, & Lamon, 1990; Kahle & Meece, 1994; Solomon, 1997; Xie et al.,2003). It is in the context of these different paradigms or theoretical frameworks that this paper addresses gender inequity in science and mathematics in Africa where women have difficulty in accessing education and rarely found in hierarchical posts or at decision making level.

THE AFRICAN SCENE

The blessings of securing equal access for females in science/mathematics education are now recognized among non-governmental organizations, lending institutions and governments in Africa. The Millennium Declaration which was signed in September 2000 (UN, 200Oa) has as some of its goals, the promotion of gender equity and the empowerment of women, and also the elimination of gender inequity in primary and secondary education by 2005 and in all levels of education no later than 2015 (UN, 200Ob).

Gender disparities in science/mathematics education is the sector of the African education system which has received little attention when it comes to tackling many of the problems facing this continent (Naidoo & Savage, 1998). Traditionally, the educational systems of the former colonizers has influenced the science/mathematics education in African countries, which involves a direct transfer of science curricula, examinations and teaching methods from western countries that have failed to address the current challenges in the continent. This has resulted in a science/mathematics education that in most African countries is exemplified by de-contextualized knowledge being transmitted by poorly trained teachers in under resourced and sometimes over crowded classrooms (Rollnick, 1998;Yoloye, 1998).

Gender Patterns in Science/math education in suh-Saharan Africa:

Participation in science and mathematics education at Primary level is in general compulsory in all sub-Saharan countries (FEMSA, 1997). Low participation in math/science education at this level is thus only a problem in countries where children are not in school. However, most countries in this region have a gender gap that disadvantages girls (UNESCO, 2001 ). The Education For All assessment (EFA 200 Assessment) undertaken in year 2000, by the UNESCO, the National Education Statistical Information Systems (NESIS) and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) noted that 42 million children were out of school in sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 60% of these were also girls (UNESCO, NESIS & ADEA, 2000).

In developing countries the tendency is for the participation rates to drop significantly from primary to secondary school. In sub-Saharan Africa the gross enrolment rate in secondary education is 29.1 % from males and 23.3% from females (UNESCO, 1999a).

The following table shows the percentage of girls enrolled in secondary education who participated in leaving examination in science. The percentage of boys' participation is shown in brackets.

In terms of performance, the FEMSA study showed that girls scored significantly lower than boys in all science/math subjects in the secondary schools that participated in the first phase of FEMSA (FEMSA, 1997-10, pp. 11-13).

Studies in participation at tertiary education reveal that in the sub-Saharan average for science education in tertiary education was 5.1 % for male and 2.8% for females (UNESCO, 1999a). In 2001 FAWE noted that data from ten selected universities in Africa showed that women's enrolment in most universities is below half that of men (FAWE, 2001).

EXPLAINING CAUSES OF GENDER INEQUITY

Trying to find out what causes gender inequity in mathematics and science education has been the center of attention of much gender research and studies in science education (see Kenway & Gough, 1998; Mulemwa, 1999; UNESCO, 1999b, Bordo, 2001; UNESCO, 2003a; Reid, 2003). These studies have resulted in an extensive but incoherent body of information suggesting why females in developing world are underrepresented and underperforming in some areas of math and science education especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

At the beginning of twenty-first century, women remain a minority in the mathematics and science disciplines in Africa. Despite considerable progress toward gender equity in other areas, a lingering mind-set perseveres. Such beliefs as "Females are not good in mathematics and science" still have their advocates because of long-held assumptions and beliefs. However, there is consistent documentation that the major contributors to the gender gap in science and mathematics are environmental in nature influenced by society (Guzzeti & Williams, 1996; Jones et al., 2000; Adams, 1996; Sadker & Sadker, 1994; Mewborn, 1999; Pollina, 1995); as it is endemic to the socio-cultural, political and economic history of the African continent. Society, by this paper, is considered as an organized group of people associated together for cultural, social, political, economic and geographical purposes that influence all aspects of an individual's life. Thus, the differential treatment of females in Africa is grounded in beliefs that society has about gender differences. Sexism is woven into African societal tapestry and pervades the various cultures. Societies in most African countries undervalue the role of women, placing higher value on the traditional male role. Girls and women receive conflicting messages about their worth and place in African cultures from schools, home, and the community. Science as a subject itself has traditionally discouraged participation of women. Adding to the problem is that science classes are traditionally competitive and do not make room for a variety of learning styles (Mulemwa, 1999; Graham, 2001). The proceeding themes on sociocultural values, beliefs and practices of African societies coupled with the existing educational eco-system provide a forum for the discussion of the causes of gender inequity in science and mathematics education in African schools.

The Early Childhood Environment

One major obstacle to gender disequilibrium in mathematics and science education is attributable to early childhood environment. Boys and girls in Africa are from beginning, brought up under different environmental setting. Parents are more likely to react absolutely to self-confident acts of their sons and to emotional demeanor in their daughters (Woolfolk, 1998). Boys are encouraged to be more physically active and to learn how to address their own problems while girls are convinced to be obedient, tender and conscientious. Boys, therefore, tend to be brought up to be independent, while there is propensity to call on girls to be subservient and affectionate (Woolfolk, 1998; Mulemwa, 1999). Thus, the important learning tools in science classrooms which include discussion, problem solving, and laboratory exercises, tend to be more in sync with environment which boys are used to. There is the tendency to have an environmentally- induced head start for boys in science even before they are introduced to the subject in school (Guzzetti & Williams, 1996; Woolfolk, 1998, Aldridge & Goldman, 2002).

Family Expectations

Generally, family expectations have also been a disincentive for mathematics and science education for girls in Africa. Girls tend to be given time consuming domestic responsibilities, which leave them with not much time for private study. Girls contemplating a career in science in some cultures may find the issue of family versus career a major dilemma, and family usually takes precedence. There is the tendency for females to find it difficult to look to the future to make career plans based on their interests, rather than the mandates of influential persons, especially their parents, as parents tend to encourage males more than females to pursue advanced coursework in science and mathematics (Adams, 1996; Mewborn, 1999; Mulemwa, 1999).

Societal linages of Women

Another phenomena explaining gender inequity is low societal images of women in some cultures of Africa. The values of most African cultures assume and reflect the somehow generally accepted less significant status of women some of which are embedded in mythologies, riddles and proverbs. However, these images on which African socialization systems thrive have not yet received any thought-provoking inquiry (Gachukia & Kabira, 1991;Bunyi, 2004). For instance, gender-differentiated prospect for future income; women's labor and household chores; open and hidden dissuasion from pursuing particular track of study, educational attainment of parents, religious and ethical guideline of family, are some of the major problems stemming from these socio-cultural images (Mulemwa, 1999; Samoff, 2003).

Gender Stereotypes

Gender stereotype is another glaring problem. Widespread acceptance of stereotyping of scientists and engineers as predominantly male domain from elementary to university level is still the norm. This refers to the practices of attributing roles, behaviors, and aspirations to individuals or groups solely on the basis of gender. Discriminations based on gender stereotype surface in many ways in the school context. It may occur, for example, through teachers' samples of group placements and activity assignments, the content of compliments and criticism.. Examples range from the treatment of females in textbooks and curriculum materials to differential treatment of males and females in the classroom, to mistaken beliefs about attitudes and cognitive abilities (Woolfolk, 1998; Mulemwa, 1999; Mewborn, 1999; Wood, 2000; Martorella et al. 2005; Saitoti, 2005).

The traditional female stereotypes emphasize dependence, personal relationships, and feelings (Smith, 1992). These stereotypes promote female achievement through conformity, by accepting the notions that success is achieved through being well-behaved, and obedient (Adams, 1996). These stereotypes encourage girls to adopt self-conceptions and values that reduce the importance of interest and achievement in science and mathematics. Unlike boys, these self-conceptions among females lead to a pattern of internalized helplessness with respect of science and mathematics, with failure credited to lack of ability and success to luck (Smith, 1992; Adams, 1996). In Botswana, for instance, boys are still channeled into the so-called masculine areas such as mathematics, science and technology, while girls are concentrated in the so-called feminine disciplines like home economics, language and teaching (Duncan, 1989). Furthermore, boys are treated more tolerably than girls for outbursts of temper in the classrooms (Graham, 2001).

THE SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT AND GENDER-ISSUES IN AFRICA

The African educational systems' inability to address the gender issues in terms of power relations in the private and public area cuts across all levels of education, from primary to tertiary education. It should come as no surprise then that the schools have contributed in no small measure in bringing about gender inequity in mathematics and science education in Africa and the issues involved are captured in the proceeding discussions.

Attitudes and Instructional Methods of Teachers

There is a strong belief among some teachers that mathematics and science subjects are a male preserve. Many teachers, including women teachers, despite much lip service to the equality of girls and boys, just do not believe that girls have the ability to study mathematics and science. The result is that teachers have low expectations of girls' ability to perform well in science and mathematics (O'Connor, 2000). Female Education in Mathematics and Science in Africa (FEMSA) studies in eight African countries namely, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Senegal, Swaziland, and Zambia (cited in O'Connor, 2000) found teachers' attitudes and approaches to factor greatly in this state of affairs across all the countries. Again, teachers generally tended to accept the situation as being out of their control and inevitable and therefore, saw nothing wrong in terms of their attitudes and instructional styles (O'Connor, 2000).

Therefore, poor expectation of girls' performance in the mathematics and science subjects is a common spectacle. The following set of statements has been a common feature in science and mathematics classes:

Comfort Owusu, 38%. Connie! You have really made an effort during this test!

Kwadwo Mensah, 74%. Hey, my brother! You did not try enough! You must really work harder next term!

Statements like these send mixed signals that, it is not unheard of, if females under-perform in mathematics and science examinations but very much unacceptable if a male student's performance is above average. After over a decade of enhanced awareness of the need for more genderequitable treatments, the messages that such comments can convey to students cannot be overlooked.

Furthermore, Female Education in Mathematics and Science in Africa (FEMSA)'s eight countries research project ( cited in O'Connor, 2000) further revealed that poor expectations of girls' performance on the part of teachers leads to the kind of science and mathematics classroom dynamics, where girls are treated very differently from boys. Their studies revealed that teachers do not encourage girls during mathematics and science lessons, and in fact, at times, actively discourage them. One way they do this is by directing more challenging, high order thinking questions to males, while only simple recall type of questions to females (Rosser, 1990; Kenway & Gough, 1998; Mulemwa, 1999). This kind of treatment can only reinforce and confirm in the minds of both boys and girls what society and literature peddles around 'that science is for boys only.' Boys therefore, over time, develop at these subjects which they consider a male domain. Therefore, girls shy away from any active participation during science and mathematics for fear of being taunted by their male classmates. The study further showed that girls complain that boys call them names when they attempt to ask teachers questions. Boys on the other hand, fault girls for being unable to take jokes and name calling sometimes coined out of concepts learned in science classes. This situation is tolerated by many teachers and school administrations (O'Connor, 2000). Thus teachers' classroom instructional and management practices are not always conducive to learning especially for girls in science and mathematics courses (FAWE, 2001).

Furthermore, one of the best documented findings of the past years is that teachers interact more often and in more detail with boys than with girls. This has been observed in students from preschool to college. Teachers ask males more questions and give them more feedback (e.g. praise, criticism, correction), and give them more valuable and specific comments (Adams, 1996; Graham, 2001, Guzzetti & Williams, 1996). Small group activities unless assembled by gender, also contribute to gender inequity. Girls often engage in passive activities such as recording data, while boys get the opportunity to handle equipment, dissect, and engage in hands-on problem-solving (Guzzetti & Williams, 1996; Mewborn, 1999). The above discussed problems are aptly summarized by Mulemwa (1999) in the UNESCO Special project on "Scientific, Technical and Vocational Education (STVE) of Girls in Africa" in the following fashion:

Many of the factors that inhibit girls' participation and good performance in the STVE field have been found to be similar across countries and regions. Those that are common include gender biased curriculum and other education materials; poor teaching methods and classroom practices and hence pointing to teacher training; lack of appropriate guidance and counseling of students, particularly girls; and the lack of encouragement and motivation of the girls to pursue studies in these fields (p. 3)

Lack of confidence in Science as a Discipline

One difference among girls and boys in math and science education that is suggested by gender researchers in many countries is the difference in self-confidence (Kenway & Gough, 1998; Andre et al., 1999). Studies have shown that even when girls tend to perform just as well as boys, their confidence relating to their abilities of learning science is lower than what applies to the boys.

Some researchers (Rop, 1998, Martin & Newcomer, 1999) have attributed one of the causes of gender inequity in science and mathematics to the disciplines themselves. Science discipline, especially physical sciences, has usually discouraged women into the field, causing attrition of more female than male students leaving the field. Traditional physical science classes are extremely competitive, and do not make room for diversity of learning styles (Graham, 2001).

Furthermore, the absence of senior women scientists and mathematicians in most public arena in Africa translate that girls have few role models with whom to identify, and few female mentors to encourage them (Nancy, 1999). Again career advisors in the schools are themselves illprepared to extol the virtues of a career in science and technology for girls; and primary school teachers teaching the science subjects are themselves, more often than not, unfamiliar with science lessons and are therefore not equipped enough to make the subject exciting (Nancy, 1999).

Gender-Biased Materials in Schools

Another well-established form of stereotyping and gender-bias comes from textbooks and other learning materials (Woolfolk, 1998; Mewborn, 1999; Wood, 2000). Many have documented through content analysis that most of the textbooks published tend to depict both males and females in sexually stereotyped positions. There is the tendency to present women in biased ways, primarily as mothers, homemakers, and care givers, with limited role as professionals (Stromquist, 2005). A study conducted in 1975 on Women on Words and Images established that the entire number of stories dealing with males were four times as great as those dealing with females. In addition, this study found that while men were usually more vibrant and daring, females tended to be shown in the home, behaving submissively and conveying incompetence (Woolfolk, 1998). According to Duncan (1989), schools in Botswana continue to use gender-biased instructional materials and other forms of sexism in the school environment.

CONSEQUENCES

The consequences of gender bias in science education create problems both for individuals and for society. It is well documented that girls, early on, suffer from lack of self-esteem and self-confidence (Graham, 2001, Jones, Howe, & Rua, 2000; Pollina, 1995). In addition, they have low perceived ability in science, negative attitudes toward science classes, and lack of motivation to pursue advanced studies in science and mathematics (DeBacker & Nelson, 2000). The costs of low performance in mathematics and science subjects are that women and girls are unable to enter science-related careers. A study carried out in Ghana on post-secondary school subject choices indicates the following:

Only 12%of girls elect to study science (physics, chemistry, and biology).

Only 5% of girls enroll for mathematics

Less than 1% of girls enter middlelevel technical training institutions (Andam, 1990).

The above studies show that generally women are invisible when one talks about science and technology education which have long been recognized as the cornerstone of development in Ghana in particular and Africa in general.

SOLUTIONS: What Should Be Done?

If the above discussed problems are some of the reasons why women are not to be found in greater numbers in science and technology, what further can be done to address the under-representativeness? In spite of the mounting problems militating against women in mathematics and science education in Africa, I am of the opinion that something positive could be done about these problems to make mathematics and science subjects more appealing to women. The following are some of the solutions recommended by the paper.

GENDER RESPONSIVE POLICIES IN THE SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT

The schools' endeavor to address the gender problems can take many forms. A policy is a statement of guiding principle, which defines main beliefs that guide plans, actions and practices. Gender responsive policy is a set of guidelines, which characterize principles on how to address imbalances and inequalities that have resulted from socially and culturally constructed differences between men and women in a given society. A gender responsive policy, therefore, seeks to redress the historical and socio-cultural imbalances that have created gender hierarchies and limited the extent to which women realize their basic human needs as in the case of Africa.

Accommodating Various Learning Styles and Viewpoints

Numerous scholars have explored the implications of attending to various learning styles in the teaching-learning process (Anderson & Adams, 1992; Guild, 1997; Johnson, 1998). There is consensus among scholars that attending to the unique ways in which students learn should be part of the teaching and learning process. Silver et al. (1997) indicate that "learning styles emphasize the different ways people think and feel as they solve problems, create products, and interact...Learning styles are concerned with differences in the process of learning" (P. 22).

Many teachers have choreographed the curriculum to cater to male student population and expect females to conform. Science teachers, however, must include pedagogical practices that have relevance and meaning to gender issues for as Dewey (1933) reminds us that "Everything the teacher does, as well as the manner in which he does it, incites the child to respond in some way or another, and each response tends to get the child's attitude in some way or the other" (p. 59).

Therefore, the above recommendation calls for making the teaching-learning process gender responsive in all learning environments including the family by restructuring the curriculum and training teachers on different teaching methodologies in all contexts including how to deal with students with special needs. It also involves providing friendly learning environments that are inclusive, affordable and accessible to all students.

We have seen how all factors both in and out of school contribute to gender inequity in science and mathematics. However, teachers are somehow limited in their ability to control the influences that society has outside of the school environment. However, even with these restrictions, teachers can still contribute tremendously to the minimization of gender bias within the classroom.

Educational policies that govern education do not always favor girls and women. In the provision of school places, equipment, teachers' distribution and deployment, the gender approach needs to be addressed to ensure non discriminatory practices. An increasing body of research suggests that equating learning styles with teaching and learning activities contributes to meeting each individual's unique needs (Stewart, 1990).

Linking Science and Mathematics Concepts to life Experiences

The curriculum in many African countries needs to be revisited for relevance and appropriateness as some countries continue to use curricula inherited from the colonial times (Asimeng-Boahene, 1999). There is a need to review the curriculum so that science and mathematics learned in school be meaningful and practical for female students. As demonstrate by Paulus Gerdes in his book, Geometry of Africa; the business acumen of market women, street vendors quick-thinking mathematical computation, on the spot determination of what is a good buy or a good sale; the kind of geometry involved in hair styles, basket weaving, pot making, bead work, cloth weaving can be used in mathematics and science classes for illustrations (Cited in O'Connor, 2000). Thus interests of the students, and also the applications of science concepts, particularly physical science, to life learning and life skills should feature prominently in the science classrooms (Brown University, 1996, cited in Tindall and Hamil, 2004).

Environment of Self-Confidence and Success

Communicating loudly and clearly that both boys and girls would be equally expected to do well in mathematics and science courses by teachers can go a long way in motivating science and mathematics students (Wood, 2000, cited in Tindall & Hamil, 2004). However, teachers need to pay more attention to girls as they may not be able, due to environmental circumstances, to do as well in science and mathematics as boys. Thus, the role of the teacher in praising students and verbalizing expectations is critical in fostering self-confidence in girls. For instance, it is very important to give regular feedbacks in the form of un-stereotyped comments thereby highlighting female students' confidence in terms of the content of course (Pollina, 1995). Teachers can also encourage participation and foster self-confidence by giving consistent positive reinforcement for their comments and questions (Guzzetti & Williams, 1996, Mewborn, 1999).

Female Role Models as Guest Speakers

Increasing representation of female role models is a potential force to promote girls education in mathematics and science. Schools could invite women who have excelled in the field of science and technology to their schools or classroom to talk about their experiences. For example, in Kenya, schools could invite Dr. Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize for her work on environmental issues and human rights to the schools to talk about environment. Her award could be a perfect and rewarding exercise for women studying science and mathematics in Kenya. Ardent advocates for using women as effective teaching tools in science classrooms justify it by the positive effects that woman resource person may have on students in general and women in particular. The use of women as resource persons cannot only serve as role models for science girls, but their presence in the science classrooms is important to male students and teachers too. Furthermore, the presence of female guest speakers in the schools can serve as psycho social therapy boosting female students' self-esteem, helping to raise the aspiration, motivation, and academic levels of female science students in Africa. The importance of this concept is further reiterated by Braithwaithe (1995), when he sums up that, "process of dialogue with those who suffer from acts of irresponsibility [on the part of society] are among the most effective ways of bringing home to us as human beings ones obligations to take responsibility for our deeds" (P. 21).

Networking among Female Scientists

Networking among female scientists in Africa should be promoted through publications, meetings, and virtual discussion groups. Marriner-Tomey (1993) describes networking as a means in which people communicate, share ideas and information, and give support and direction to each other. The inclusion of women in the mathematics and science education networking circles of the men at the center of power would be of further great benefit (Nancy, 1999). Thus, the science/mathematics women teachers need a network with other professionals to help them function effectively. Networking promotes bonds with people throughout the profession, both within and outside the work environment. Also, it creates new opportunities and makes it easier for the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and information. Science teachers can develop a network by a) attending local, regional and national conferences, b) joining the alumni association and attending alumni meetings, c) joining and participating in professional organizations, and d) socializing with professional colleagues (O'Leary et al., 1986, cited in Asimeng-Boahene, 1999). Thus, women in science and mathematics must maintain outside contacts if they are to manage a fulfilling and effective professional career as this can help them find new opportunities and also attract mentors.

Gender-based Affirmative Action

Since the existing policies and practices have failed to address the unjust realities in terms of gender inequity in science and mathematics, it is not too late for the institutions to go out of their way to assure justice through gender-based affirmative action. Affirmative action, in general, is a policy whereby preference is given to underrepresented minority applicants. It is one of the most talked about and most controversial issues in the field of academia (Grofman & Merrill, 2004). This suggestion may be controversial as critics argue that admissions to institutions of higher learning are based on merits and therefore, allowing women to enter at lower cut off points than their male counterparts 'waters down' standards. This approach further endorses the notion of women as intellectually weaker gender and thus denies them the prestige they would achieve by making it on their own (Sowell, 2004). Sowell (2004) further concludes from his analysis of affirmative action that "despite sweeping claims made for affirmative action programs, an examination of their actual consequences makes it hard to support those claims or even to say that these programs have been beneficial on the net balance..." (P. 120). However, advocates who believe in this adjusted admission advantage for women talk about the opportunity cost of admission preferences by viewing the policy to be, if at all, positive discrimination and a necessary evil. As such, stake holders must be prepared to subscribe to the view that any amount of social redress, however, small, is worth any amount of costs of inaction, for according to Szockyj and Frank (Cited in Szockyj and Fox, 1995), "preserving the gender queue bestows advantages on all men by reinforcing their dominant position in employment, and by extension, in society" (p. 16).

This paper is of the opinion that 'softening' the admission criteria by modest degree for females seems to be an appropriate measure to help reduce the gender gap. The policy addresses the demographics of sex inequities and discrimination in school admissions as emphasis is on achieving equality of opportunity in the education and work environment.

During my eight years teaching experience in Nigeria, for instance, places in university are required to "reflect the federal character" of Nigeria. This means that there are quotas for all the large ethnic groups in the country. I am of the view that the same can be done to reflect the gender character of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Thus given the current dismal picture of females in science and mathematics education in Africa, introducing preferential policies in the form of gender-based affirmative action seems to be an immediate option if not an all time remedy towards maintaining a gender equity community in academia.

Workshops and ln-Service Training for Teachers

Gender awareness training in the form of workshops and in-service training for mathematics and science educators should become an integral part of the school curriculum in African countries as they are necessary to help produce current and competent teachers. This will require the development of a focused institutionalized and regular in-servicing of mathematics and science teachers. Basically, gender awareness training allows teachers to incorporate gender parameters in their instruction. The training should focus on, among others, the concepts, scope and content, the methods of teaching and assessing the end product of the subject, and textbook development and production, etc. Such schools-based workshops to improve science and mathematics teachers' methodologies and skills and update on new techniques is vital force to help reduce the stigma that has been attached to females subordinate position in mathematics and science education in Africa. Also, as stated by George Saitoti, Kenya's Education Minister when launching the Association for the Development of Education in Africa Working Group on Mathematics and Science Education in Nairobi "This approach will help to demystify the learning of mathematics and science subjects" www.allafrica.com/stories.html (Accessed 3 March 2005).

This can also be done through outreach activities in conjunction with other stake holders like Non-governmental Organizations focusing on gender issues. This could take the form of a production of documentary videos or films about women and science and mathematics education to be distributed within the country involved to schools and communities. Also career guidance counselors have to visit various parts of the country to organize sessions for students, parents, community leaders promoting careers in science and mathematics.

Official Government Policy and Involvement

This paper is calling on various African governments to be guided by the wise saying of 'Aggrey of Africa' that we develop a nation by educating women. Thus, there should be a deliberate effort at advocacy for policies at the national level that promote science and mathematics education for women. Governments should make conscious efforts to improve the participation and performance of girls in science, mathematics and technology subjects from primary through secondary to tertiary levels. Ministries of Education and policy makers should be invigorated to make the necessary adjustment in curriculum, teacher training and examinations to ensure fuller participation and better achievement in science and mathematics subjects by girls (O'Connor, 2000)

Another suggestion is for the governments of Africa and other interested stake holders to allocate sufficient resources for quality girls' education and enactment of legislation to ensure education for all. This approach might help in eradicating feminization of poverty and gender bias in science education as this approach can go a long way reducing the pressure on family and household incomes and thereby freeing girls from exploitative labor and allow them to be educated.

The Future of Gender and Science/ Mathematics Education in Africa

Given the pace of change about gender and schooling and the work being done by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), UNESCO, Governmental institutions and agencies towards gender and education in Africa, an appreciable prediction to make is that these organizations will continue to push for cultural and political changes that address gender inequity in science and mathematics education in Africa. As schooling nurtures and develops cognitive behavior; its all-embracing nature works against traditional status categories of people, so it is not hard to imagine in a foreseeable future, Africa with very low gender differences in mathematics/science education, related topics and other technical subjects.

The rate of change, however, is likely to be affected both by national cultural values and by opportunity structures that might vary within countries. Nevertheless, any gender difference in mathematics/science education should be redefined as a problem of social injustice and inefficiency that needs to be done away with. Thus, until issues of gender and education are considered seriously through innovative educational programs by stake holders and progressive policies by the various governments, neither girls nor boys will receive an education that is both excellent and equitable in the continent of Africa.

CONCLUSION

I have addressed in the paper why gender inequity in mathematics and science still exists in African schools, and also offered several strategies for the purpose of discovering long-term solutions to this problem. I strongly believe that investment in science and mathematics education for women would yield broad economic benefits in Africa, if we are to take cognizance of the saying that 'If you educate a man, you educate an individual; but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.' African women are absolutely central to sustainable development and socio-economic advancement on the African continent. With the new flying phrases being scientific and technological advancements, let all stake holders in Africa, be they families, schools, communities, governments etc, through their skills, innovations and intellect, chart a new era of development for African women by being gender-sensitive in all their endeavors and thereby helping in uplifting women in mathematics and science subjects on the continent of Africa.

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LEWIS ASIMENG-BOAHENE, PH.D

Penn State University-Harrisburg

Copyright Project Innovation Summer 2006
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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