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8 March, 2018 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 7 March, 2018 11:51:42 PM

Girls in Science

Sheikh Iraj
Girls in Science

We now live in the age of science and technology. So, it is important for students to have a science education from the very beginning of their academic career. Science allows us to connect with the modern world. Science helps us to identify different problems, and find ways to solve them. The International Day of Women and Girls in Science was observed on February 11. And on March 8, the world celebrates International Women’s Day. Now, on this special day, what can be better than finding out how girls in our country are embracing studies and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics)? This week, Y&I spoke with some students, teachers and officials regarding their take on science education.

M Asaduzzaman Chowdhury, a professor at Dhaka University of Engineering and Technology (DUET), said: “Today our women are more empowered than ever. But we are yet to provide them with the proper opportunities. In our institute, about half the students are girls. Even if that number is not exactly correct, we are slowly heading towards that number. Not too long ago, there was a time when girls showed very little interest in studying science. That is not the case anymore. Moreover, many of them are working in the (scientific) field they have actually studied. Many of my students are now working abroad after completing their education here. This is indeed a positive sign for our society.”

“There are factors like social mindset, economic growth and political changes behind these changes. There are other aspects that need to be taken into consideration to make our girls interested in getting a science education. For example, to get our girls more motivated, we need to make our science-related textbooks simpler. From primary level, our Bangla-medium students study science in Bangla, but when they enter university, they have to study some books in English,” Chowdhury added.

Tania Sultana has been working as a senior officer (assistant hardware) at state-owned Rupali Bank since 2015. She got her Computer Science Engineering (CSE) degree from DUET in 2013. “Science is fun and interesting. From a career perspective, studying science is a wonderful choice. I am glad I am working in a field that I studied in. Today, many students pursue their education in one particular subject, and then go on to work in a completely different field,” she said. “I became interested in science when I entered high school. Of course, many of my friends at the time wanted to do the same, but they didn’t get the chance to study science-related subjects after completing their HSC (higher secondary certificate).”

Farhani Mostafa, a student of CSE department at AIUB (American International University-Bangladesh), always wanted to study science. In her schooldays, she used to take part in different science festivals. “It was my dream to study CSE. After completing my graduation, I want to go abroad for further studies,” she said.

Mohammad Rayhan Hossain, an assistant teacher who teaches science at Tejgaon Adarsha School and College, said only 42, out of 140 female students, in class 9, the first year of SSC (secondary school certificate), have opted for science group. “That’s 30 percent. These days, girls prefer to study commerce,” he added. In class 10, 36 girls are doing science, compared to 54 boys.

Now, there might be some debate over the fact that many girls after completing HSC from science group are opting to study humanities or commerce-related subjects for further education.

Jasmine Ara Begum, professor and head of architecture department at Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology, said: “I have seen many girls who are quite good in science subjects going for arts or commerce subjects because they want to study in a reputed educational institution. Then again, there is a question of choice, as what does a student want to study? My personal observation is that at our university, and in many other universities of our country, there are more female students in architecture departments than male students. I have been associated with teaching for the past 25 years and I think today, in general, the quality of our education has deteriorated. There are many girls who want to study science-related subjects, but they do not get that chance. One of the reasons is the admission system we have in our country. Only the students with top grades get to study science and that, too, after passing a hectic admission test.”   

Dil Afroz Begum, professor and chairman of Department of Applied Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Rajshahi University, said: “In the science departments of our university, nearly 20 percent of the students are female. The number of girls is fewer in the science departments, it is true. However, there are many reasons behind it. One of the main reasons is not being able to pass the admission test. That being said, the young women who are graduating from science departments are getting good jobs. Our girls have brains and they are motivated as well, all they need is to set a goal. A goal they are going to study science and enjoy doing it.”

Shamsun Naher Begum, professor and head of physics department at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST), informed Y&I via email: “At present, the total number of students in the Department of Physics is 476. Out of them, the percentage of female students is 19. In the last few years, we have seen a slow increase in the number of female students seeking admission in this and other science-related departments. For example, in departments like Computer Science and Engineering and Chemical Engineering and Polymer Science, female students are showing more interest. This interest in science is very encouraging. We hope this increasing trend will continue, with more female students coming to the exciting world of science.”

Farzana Islam, vice-chancellor of Jahangirnagar University, is the first woman to hold that post at a public university in Bangladesh. She completed her master’s degree in sociology from University of Dhaka in 1980. “During British rule, students used to study all subjects until completing their matriculation (secondary school). Today, I see more girls studying science. At least, that is what I have observed at our university. I think we need to make science education compulsory up to HSC,” she said.

“I never thought I would become the VC of such a reputed educational institution of our country. When I first came to know that I had been selected to take on this responsibility, naturally I was quite excited,” the VC added.  

Regarding the government’s efforts to encourage STEM studies, M Abu Nasher, public relation officer of the government’s ICT Division, said: “At the moment, there are 2,900 Sheikh Russell Digital Labs (SRDLs) in our country. In the last nine months, we have established 900 more SRDLs. Besides, there are a total of 6,500 digital labs in different educational institutions all over the country. The basic difference between Sheikh Russell Digital Labs and other digital labs is that at SRDLs, students have internet connectivity. Also, a number of foreign languages, like Arabic, English, French, Mandarin, etc, are taught at these labs. To encourage science education among university students, we have established different types of labs. For example, at Jahangirnagar University, we have set up a software testing and quality assurance lab, a robotics lab at BUET, and at Dhaka University, we have established an animation lab.”

“In 2017, we successfully organised National Girl’s Programming Contest, and this year we are going to hold another contest in July. Girls often face different social barriers, and building a career in ICT (information and communications technology) sector can be a way for them to overcome those obstacles. We have another excellent contest named National Hackathon for Women. Last year, we also successfully organised that. Through the Hackathon, we want to encourage creativity and innovation among women (ICT) developers,” Nasher added.

According to www.widbd.com, the website of Women In Digital, the Hackathon is an event for women and girls where passionate ICT students or professionals can participate in a collaborative programming session.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has also called on countries and society to dismantle barriers so women and girls can reach their potential in science. In a message to mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said it was time to support and invest in women and girls who want to pursue careers in scientific research.

Guterres said although both girls and boys had the potential to pursue their ambitions in STEM, in school and at work, systematic discrimination means women occupy less than 30 percent of research and development jobs worldwide. “We need to encourage and support girls and women to achieve their full potential as scientific researchers and innovators. Women and girls need this, and the world needs this, if we are to achieve our ambitions for sustainable development on a healthy planet,” he added.

The UN chief called for “concerted, concrete efforts” to overcome stereotypes and biases, such as media representations of scientists and innovators as being mainly men.

In a joint statement, Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO, and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, re-echoed Guterres’ concerns. The two UN officials stressed that such imagery made it difficult for girls to believe they could be scientists, explorers or inventors, for example.

They said the future would be marked by scientific and technological progress _ vital to national economies _ which “will be the greatest when it draws on the full talent, creativity and ideas of women and girls in science”.

UNESCO data shows only around 30 percent of all female students in higher education select STEM subjects.

“We need to tackle biased perceptions amongst teachers, employers, peers and parents of the suitability of girls and young women to learn science. Or learn at all – to pursue scientific careers or to lead and manage in academic spheres,” the UN officials said, stressing on the need to change attitudes and challenge stereotypes.

Photos: File, Maria Mohsin.

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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