Program In Nigeria Teaches Girls STEM Despite Threat Of Violence

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By Karen Valenzuela (@VictoriaNoir89)

As attacks from extremist group Boko Haram rain down on communities in Nigeria, many of which are purposefully targeting centers of learning, the Odyssey Educational Foundation continues to educate kids in science, technology, engineering, and math. In and of itself, the foundation’s undertaking is commendable, but add to that the highly dangerous atmosphere in which these programs have been operating, and their success is astounding.

Stella Uzochukwu left her career in an engineering firm to start the Odyssey Educational Foundation. Since 2013, they have conducted after-school programs in six public schools throughout northern Nigeria. In said programs, they teach kids in all things STEM. According to the foundation’s website, they have engaged over 60 students in their STEM programs and intend to expand even further in the coming years.

In fact, these students successfully worked together to build a robot to submit to the First Lego League competition in 2015. In the Trash Trek Challenge, teams of students from 80 countries submitted robots to the competition that would solve a particular problem with the way humans make or handle trash. Extending past competitions like this, Odyssey’s goal is to inspire girls especially to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Unfortunately, the Boko Haram attacks have had a major impact on Odyssey’s operations. Their particular targeting of schools has left many Nigerian parents terrified of the prospect of sending their children to school. Because of Odyssey’s status as an after school program, parents were even less likely to want their children to participate outside of regular school hours. According to Unicef, Boko Haram successfully kept more than 670,000 African school-aged children from learning by creating an atmosphere of danger in schools in cities like Nigeria’s capital Abuja, especially.

Boko Haram roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden,” and Odyssey’s intentions directly conflict with that ideology. Last year, Boko Haram bombed numerous sites in Abuja, where the Odyssey Educational Foundation operates from, killing at least 18 people and injuring many others. Still, Uzochukwu and her staff continued their efforts. “There was a particular incident last year where we wanted to engage kids in coding during the school holidays, but none of the kids were allowed to come into school because of these attacks,” Uzochukwu told CNN.

So Odyssey’s staff sought a way to make teaching their students in STEM subjects safer, and to put parents at ease. They moved into a dedicated center so that their students could continue to learn without having to venture into their schools, which are prime targets for Boko Haram attacks.

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In spite of accepting both girls and boys into their program, Odyssey wants to do more to encourage their female students especially. The disparity between boys and girls graduating from high school is highly skewed in favor of boys. Uzochukwu says when parents cannot afford to pay for all of their children to go to school, they choose to send only their boys. The Odyssey staff have been venturing into the Nigerian communities to encourage parents to send their daughters to school, even going so far as to teach the mothers trades that will help supplement the school fees.

In the shadow of cruel intolerance, ignorance, and needless violence, the Odyssey Educational Foundation and its students continue to do all they can to contribute to STEM and to the world at large.


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