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Girls' Education in Fiji
Fiji is currently in the midst of altering their education system to better incorporate girls and empower them to lead more fulfilling lives. About 83 percent of students in Fiji — both male and female — complete their compulsory education; however, it has been found that girls’ education in Fiji lacks STEM subjects and menstrual health.

Fijian Culture and Views About Women

The culture of Fiji has remained traditional, and until the early 2000s, still viewed its women as inferior to its men. The World Bank reported that in 2012, young girls — although educated — were often domesticized directly after completing their compulsory education.

It was noted in the same World Bank report that boys are more likely to focus their attention on making money, while girls are expected to live almost solely within the home. As of 2016, 41 percent of women and 76 percent of men work in the labor force of the Fiji Islands.

To change the outcome of girls’ future, the Fiji government is encouraging young girls to engage more with nontraditional, ‘non-female’ education tracks like math, physics and science. Leadership works to accomplish such prioritization through altering education systems to index young girls’ early education towards these STEM subjects. However, the World Bank found that in 2013, only 3.88 percent of the country’s GDP is spent on education.

Changing the STEM Status Quo

Nevertheless, Fiji’s government has promised to alter its education budget so that primary and secondary education facilities throughout Fiji receive proper funding for STEM subjects. The purpose of pushing these subjects is to encourage young girls (and later women) of Fiji to pursue careers in technological, mathematical and scientific fields, which have historically been dominated by men.

This gender disparity in STEM fields can be seen at the Water Authority of Fiji (WAF), an organization formed by the Fiji government to provide a sustainable and effective water system for the country. As of 2017, only four percent of the engineering and technical staff and about 25 percent of the entire staff of WAF are female.

This gender imbalance at WAF can be traced back to gender stereotypes that dominate much of Fiji’s culture, and discourage women from entering male-dominated fields.

Finding Empowerment Through Education

To combat much of the traditional gender segregation embedded in the mindset of Fiji’s society, The World Bank suggests that Fiji begin to teach courses on gender, like the empowerment of women, in schools.

Fiji also has struggled to teach young girls about menstrual health and hygiene due to shaming. Fiji’s education board classifies menstrual health as a ‘women-only’ issue and therefore does not educate male students about the subject. This separation has created a divide in education amongst the students and thus the society.

Moreover, labeling menstrual health as a ‘women-only’ issue has made the subject taboo for men in Fiji. This restriction often translates to the shaming women for their education of the topic. UNICEF’s menstrual health and hygiene assessment found that the number one reason girls are dissuaded from continuing with education in menstrual health is that of the taunting they receive from their male counterparts.

Female Under-Representation in Leadership

As a result of the inadequate girls’ education in Fiji, there remains a major under-representation of women in senior positions of power — in parliament, managerial roles, deans of education and many others. The Human Rights Commission found that in 2016, only 16 percent of Fiji’s parliament was made up of women.

Moreover, as of 2004, only five percent of directors of publicly listed companies were women, 14 percent of legal partnerships were held by women, and about 15 percent of professors and associate professors at universities in New Zealand were female.

Much of the inconsistencies amongst genders comes from the cultural norms of New Zealand. The norm of New Zealand is that the woman cares for the home and the children, while the man works. As a country, New Zealand has struggled to shake the idea of the “domestic woman” and the “working man” from its public perception. Consequently, women’s jobs, girls’ education and overall female opportunities have suffered.

Attaining Equality for Girls’ Education in Fiji

Fiji has strived for equality and has recognized that their major setbacks — particularly in girls’ education — are hindering them from reaching such a goal. These setbacks are large and are deeply rooted in the cultural norms of the country.

Nevertheless, the fight for girls’ education in Fiji has remained firm in ensuring that the government’s promise — to provide female students with equal opportunities — is pushed through to completion. It remains to be seen, however, how Fiji’s government will further drive the equality agenda, and how much of a priority equal education will continue to be.

– Isabella Agostini
Photo: Flickr

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Education, in general, diminishes poverty, encourages economic growth and increases income. It improves the prospects of having a healthy life, reduces maternal mortality and battles epidemics including HIV/AIDS. Education fosters gender equality, reduces child marriage and promotes peace.

In the late 20th century, the world shifted from being a skills-based society to a global, primarily knowledge-based system. Therefore, the focus of global education needs to expand from its previous focus on predominantly primary and secondary education. Enhanced concentration on tertiary education reduces poverty in this new world environment.

A knowledge-based civilization depends on well-educated societies that rely on the specialized education of citizens to stimulate innovation, entrepreneurship and the dynamism of that country’s economy. Education, science, culture and communication have replaced skills learned in apprenticeship and hands-on training geared toward manual trades.

Today’s economy requires STEM education. STEM is the acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Defined as “an interdisciplinary approach to learning,” STEM education instructs students in technological concepts. Advanced lessons allow students to employ science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Cooperation grows between school, community, work and the global enterprise. STEM literacy permits impoverished nations to compete in a modern economy.

Tertiary education reduces poverty by facilitating STEM learning. Post-secondary education challenges poverty. It empowers students from countries with a high poverty rate to acquire the skills needed to compete in a modern marketplace. Additionally, STEM education furnishes an opportunity for students to return to their homelands (and may yet have family members) to share educational gains with the governments and communities of their youth.

Once completing post-secondary degrees, students who travel from their country of origin for tertiary education acquire higher-paying jobs abroad. Subsequently, they send money back home to their families, a practice called “remittance.” For example, Mexico garners approximately $24.4 billion in remittances each year from immigrants in the U.S. This amount accounts for roughly two percent of the Mexican GDP, according to the World Bank. Across the globe, immigrants sent $583 billion to their home countries in 2014, $440 billion of which went to developing countries.

Although these funds may form just a small fraction of a country’s national GDP, they still account for almost four times the $135 billion in global foreign aid disbursed in 2014. India receives about $12 billion in remittances from the United Arab Emirates, and money sent home from the broader Gulf region plays a significant part in the economy of South Indian states like Kerala.

Completed tertiary education reduces poverty more effectively than secondary education. Those who complete tertiary education are six times less likely to fall below the poverty line. Tertiary instruction reduces poverty through the creation of social equality and empowerment. It creates personal and social opportunities through the development of social capital and assists in the allocation of funds by extending possibilities for employability, income and movement between social strata.

Heather Hopkins
Photo: Flickr

Reduce Poverty in Developing Countries

A country’s economic growth, security, development and prosperity depend on the ability of its young population to obtain proficiency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. Students exposed to STEM education at an early age gain valuable experience in a consistently growing field. The skills they gain can be used to create a more innovative, efficient and productive workforce. Though most developing countries face many obstacles in affording basic education for young children, promoting STEM education can be one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty in developing countries.

As technological advancements become an inseparable part of our lives, STEM education can empower human resources with global competitiveness. UNESCO emphasizes that it is also a building block in creating “a critical mass of scientists, researchers and engineers to enable them to participate fully in the global economy.”

Obstacles in providing STEM education remain. According to the Institute of Engineering and Technology, low-quality teaching and a monotonous curriculum have been identified as two common barriers to students who end up losing interest in STEM education. Afraid of being perceived as “geeks” or “nerds,” students give in to negative stereotypes and fail to see how a STEM education can help propel them towards interesting, lucrative careers and reduce poverty in developing countries.

The perceived difficulty of STEM subjects and the ever-present pressure to obtain high scores scare off students, while a passive approach in transitioning from primary to secondary school discourages more thorough engagement. Furthermore, gender stereotypes create significant challenges for girls in developing countries to maintain an appreciable literary level, much less make strides in the STEM arena.

But there are also positive developments. In 2014, for example, 19 universities in west and central Africa received funding from the World Bank for specialized studies in STEM-related disciplines, as well as in agriculture and health.

Initiatives like Code to Hope seek to improve digital literacy and education by empowering underserved communities with the necessary computer and technical skills. Code to Hope notes that access to technology is directly related to an income increase of $21 per month.

Organizations such as the WorldFund work in Latin America and target poverty by assisting educators in devising teaching methods that can help spark students’ interests in learning STEM-related subjects.

Moreover, open source applications, which depend on the collaborative work of people all over the world, are also enhancing learning in STEM fields for students and helping to reduce poverty in developing countries. Schools utilizing the open source approach not only provide a more robust education for their students, but also help create a more sustainable future by helping people move out of poverty.

The United Nations places a special emphasis on STEM education, noting that it can empower youths and help eliminate the gender gap for young women and girls. The U.N. also notes that growing career opportunities in STEM-related fields present the best antidote to chronic youth unemployment and that STEM skills are “an ideal communication channel that enhances social engagement as well as sharing information and innovative ideas to overcome poverty and to promote peace and prosperity for all.”

By providing the necessary skill development and equal employment opportunities as part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce inequality, STEM education can help reduce poverty in developing countries.

Mohammed Khalid

Photo: Flickr

STEM Programs in Kazakhstan
Robot battles, solar trackers and a laser that shoots for the moon — these are the inventions of western Kazakhstan’s youngest engineers. As part of their experience with the Zangar Initiative, which runs several STEM programs in Kazakhstan, these students combined the math and science they learn in school with the technological skills and hands-on experience that the initiative provides. The results seem almost like science fiction.

The results seem almost like science fiction. Although supported by Chevron and the International Youth Foundation, the community propels the initiative. The young people and their families chose the name “Zanger,” which is Kazakh for “mighty.”
The participating students are taught to use the engineering design process, a step-by-step guide for how to turn a brilliant idea into a concrete model. The process gives students a straightforward way to address a problem. They also learn skills like C programming and 3D design, which are not in the school curriculum, and have access to high-tech equipment.

The teens who participate in the STEM Capstone after-school clubs learn more than just technical skills. They often work in groups and learn both teamwork and stress management. One of the key tasks of a teammate, besides helping with design, is to steer his or her fellow engineers away from the temptation to give up should the early prototypes fail.

Perseverance is always rewarded. Many of these students go on to win regional and even national competitions. One student who created a laser designed to beam Helium-3, a potential clean energy source, from the moon to the earth, received a scholarship to the university of her choice in Kazakhstan.

The students of these STEM programs in Kazakhstan gain confidence in themselves and have high motivation to continue learning. Many of them gain the courage to become entrepreneurs. The program also opens their eyes to the needs of the community, inspiring service work and volunteering.

In December 2016, the city of Atyrau hosted its first STEM and English fair, featuring games and activities provided by the Zangar Initiative. Government officials hope that STEM programs in Kazakhstan will inspire a new generation of scientists and entrepreneurs, promoting economic and technological development within the country.

Emilia Otte

Aziz Sancar
Aziz Sancar is one of the three recipients of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Currently, he serves as a professor of biochemistry and physics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

Though he has been teaching and researching at UNC since 1982, Sancar’s education began in his native Turkey. He grew up in a large family in a predominantly Kurdish region of Turkey.

His early life taught him that education for women and men in Turkey was not equal, particularly in the Kurdish areas of Turkey, where girls often married at the age of 13. In an interview with Yahoo, Sancar noted that education for girls was not emphasized as a priority.

Even as a whole, the Turkish nation seems to give less attention to girls’ education. UNC Global states that, per the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Gender Gap Report, the illiteracy rate is 1.9 for males in Turkey, but 9.4 for women.

Sancar told UNC Global, “As someone from rural Turkey, I understand the power of education. I know what it has done in my life. I want all girls in Turkey and around the world to have the same opportunity I had.”

To this end, Sancar recently launched a program in cooperation with the Harriet Fulbright Institute called Girls in STEM Project. The initiative is designed to increase female students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

UNC Global shared that the project would span seven Turkish cities and host a series of three-day conferences, with both Turkish students and Syrian refugee students participating.

The project’s website details that 700 girls in 6th grade will participate, at no cost, by registering online. The first 100 girls to register in each city involved will be accepted.

Sancar told UNC Global, “We hope this is a beginning,” Aziz Sancar said. “We want to close the gender gap in education and in the workforce in Turkey, and this is one way we can encourage that to begin, to inspire girls to get involved in STEM.”

Katherine Hamblen

Photo: Wikimedia

Einstein ForumAs leaders in Africa packed up their bags at the conclusion of the first-ever Next Einstein Forum Global Gathering in Dakar, Senegal, there was new hope for the future of science and technology in the region.

The event, which was held from March 8-10, addressed various topics pertinent to the state of African science and technology research, such as gender disparity and the need for more advanced education. These issues brought commentary from local leaders to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.

The Next Einstein Forum (NEF) was created in 2013 but this year marked the first global gathering, which was focused on promoting “a vibrant and cohesive scientific community.” The focus is on Africa in particular because it believes that the “next Einstein will be African.”

Panelists focused on the mobilization of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sector of Africa. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon showed his support for STEM research as a weapon against poverty when he said, “Science is a force multiplier for advancing progress across all the Sustainable Development Goals.” The Next Einstein Forum supports a number of the Sustainable Development Goals proposed by the United Nations by inspiring change in a continent with the capability to grow rapidly.

However, this growth has been stunted by the need to outsource STEM-based jobs worth almost $4 billion a year. PR Newswire reported that this yearly sum accounts for about 35 percent of the continent’s aid. This expense could easily be reduced with the emergence of STEM-educated Africans that could keep the jobs local.

The 2016 NEF also focused on the barriers African women interested in jobs in the STEM sector face. Many speakers supported the removal of the gender disparity in the industry as a solution to the lack of innovators.

The panel leading the fight, named “Driving the Agenda for African Women in STEM,” featured prominent female scientists such as France Cordova, the director of the U.S. National Science Foundation, and Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology. But they weren’t alone, as women made up about 40 percent of the NEF Fellows class.

In a culture described as “less progressive than most,” this number shows the group’s recent success in combating the gender gap in employment.

With the 2016 event over, the forum looks forward to its next meeting in Kigali, Rwanda in 2018. Supporters of the cause can still take action now, though, by signing the I Am Einstein petition and staying connected through the forum’s Twitter page with daily updates.

With its international backing and optimistic outlook, the Next Einstein Forum has inspired a new generation of African STEM students. By advancing education and providing more opportunities for growth, it has put itself in a good position to fight poverty in the region.

Jacob Hess

Sources: NEF, PR Newswire
Photo: Flickr