Science, it’s a girl thing
The European Commission has recently launched an online campaign “Science: it’s a girl thing!” at http://science-girl-thing.eu/ to promote research and innovation among females. This campaign has been harshly criticised for various reasons, case in point for being sexist, but I refrain from getting into these marketing arguments.
On a local level, little attention has been given to this campaign, something which may also reflect the current status of science promotion among youths. Although there are various organs that work or aim to popularise science through various ways and means we are currently far from what we should be doing in this field.
Whereas on a European level, females tend to be less associated or involved in science (something also pointed out by the DG Research in the green paper From Challenges to Opportunities: Towards a Common Strategic Framework for EU Research and Innovation Funding), this does not seem to be the case in Malta. For instance most but not all science- related courses at the University have a majority of females or a more or less equal number of females to males.
The National Student Travel Foundation has over the years taken the lead to organise various educational programmes to promote science among students and youth. In all contests the average of participating females to males is more or less equivalent. Winners of such contests are also balanced with respect to gender. Two female students will also be representing Malta in the EU contest for young scientists, to be held in Bratislava in September under the auspices of the European Commission. Even though the number of participants in such extra-curricular activities is significant, the percentage number of students studying science subjects and who participate in such programmes is still relatively low. Even though various teachers and academics encourage students to participate, there are also minor cases where students are discouraged from participating as this will be of no benefit to them vis-à-vis the curriculum or final exams.
The contests organised by the National Student Travel Foundation have over the years led to various success stories such as this year’s story of Melvin Zammit. Mr Zammit first won the NSTF Contest for Young Scientist and was sent on behalf of NSTF to participate in the EU contest for young scientists where he was nominated to participate in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) 2012 held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was again selected to be among the top 90 projects for the Google Science Fair. His is a repeat of the success stories of other NSTF participants.
This success is attributed to two main factors. First and foremost the ability of the student and his scientific knowledge and secondly the space and tools he was given to develop his skills. Nevertheless such opportunities are limited and even though NSTF receives support from various companies and ministries to organise such activities, there are still a number of barriers including financial ones to tackle.
Science is far from the practical and theoretical theories which are currently being taught in classes. Science is about having an idea to solve a problem and how to develop a method which can solve this problem and be of benefit to mankind. Communicating this idea is, of course, also of crucial importance and something that local science students sometimes face as one of their limitations. This is why such educational programmes which are unique in their nature in our country need to be given further due attention as they are tools that can truly give students the opportunity to understand what science is and what the actual fun in science is all about, irrespective of gender.