Is education for and accessible to everyone?

To celebrate the Internation Day of Women and Girls in science I decided to put together this blog article which is a summary of previous posts I have already done on Instagram. The United Nations instituted the 11th of February as a day to celebrate women in science and showcase diversity in the STEM landscape. We are very far off from getting gender equality. Society, financial and academic biases are one of the major deterrent from girls to enter the STEM world. For the research that show how women have been mistreted by science and society over the centuries check Inferior by Angela Saini.

I will start by telling my own experience. The reason why myself, my sister and loads of women (and men) I know became first-generation scientists is that education is free in most European countries. If you are exceptionally good and you belong to a low-income household, the Italian government helps you because education is a right and belongs to everyone. Keeping up with my annual scholarship at uni (5000€/y) was a struggle. During my third year, I decided to work in the library to make extra money and I burned out consistently that year. I started doing private tutoring of chemistry during exam period because I could be more flexible and earn more money. So, after finishing to study for my exam, I had to teach other kids for 2, 3, 4 hours a day.

Access to higher education in some fancy places is based on meritocratic criteria but then you have to pay only to submit a PhD application.

Minorities and kids coming from disadvantaged backgrounds struggle to make themselves a little room. In some fancy universities in the UK (no making any names), you even have to pay only to submit a PhD application. Access to get into these institutions is based on meritocratic criteria. However, most of the students enrolled attended private and expensive schools, belong to rich families and show fancy extracurricular activities, like being member of the Royal Navy or The Queen Afternoon Tea Society. Minorities and kids belonging to low-income household struggle because of 1. You don’t get the money to go to the fancy school. 2. Your extra curricular activity is probably a part-time job you got to do to pay for your education.

How do we encourage more women in STEM if they can’t access any kind of education in the first place? In some countries like the UK, the cost of a degree in science is around £50000 (1) and in the USA about $40000/y (2). In USA, if you want to pursue a PhD, you might end up paying up to $800 only to send applications for programmes. Welcome the the real world. How can kids belonging to low-income households or poor background afford this cost?

If you don’t want to end up paying a student loan for the rest of your life, consider moving country to pursue education.

Ap8XCJFC_400x400

Becky is a MSc student at Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León in Monterrey, Mexico. She is currently studying the effect of forest fires on butterfly community compositions. “I’m gonna level with you, 85% of the reason I left Canada to study my Masters in Mexico was because of a full scholarship I won from the Mexican government. I don’t think I would have been willing to take on debt to study a Masters otherwise. The other 15% of the reason I came here was to eat tacos which I can confirm are exceeding my expectations.” Becky says. Becky’s advice for anyone interested in getting funded to study any level of education (including Spanish classes!) in (almost) any program at any institution in Mexico is to google “AMEXCID scholarship”.

If money is creating discrimination in the developed country, society stereotypes are preventing women to access education.

Education had been the primary instrument to change my own life, my lever upward in the world. I was appalled that many girls, more than 98 million worldwide according to UNESCO, didn’t have access to it. Some girls weren’t able to attend school because their families needed them to work. Sometimes the nearest school was far away or too expensive, or the risk of being assaulted to get there was too great. I was horrified when, after six months after the visit of Malala, 276 Nigerian girls were kidnapped by the extremist group of Boko Haman, seemingly intent on causing other Nigerian families to fear to send their daughters to school. I knew how we needed to work harder at protecting and encouraging girls worldwide. In many cases, suffocating gender norms and economic forces combined to keep girls uneducated, effectively locking them out of future opportunities. There seemed to be an idea, astonishingly prevalent in certain parts of the world, that was simply not worth it to put a girl in school, even as studies consistently showed that educating girls and women and allowing them to enter the workforce did nothing but boost a country’s GDP. I was committed to changing the perception about what made a young woman valuable to society. From Becoming, Michelle Obama a woman who is setting an example for all women who want to change the world and write a new chapter in history.

Despite Italy being a very patriarchal society (masculinity = macho man, femininity = pregnancy and house chores), none in my family ever told me that I had to get married to be accomplished as a woman. School has always been a priority.
I now work in a research centre with all the facilities to do research. NMR spectrometers, mass spectrometers, X-Ray, lasers and all kind of fancy-looking machines. We don’t deal with troubleshooting either, technicians do. When something doesn’t work you tell them and they sort out your probs. We don’t recycle glassware and all small things are single-use. This is a privilege and I wish to see more kids like me in the future enjoying the same.

IMG_20190131_171117_393