International Women’s Day reminds us all that in many parts of the world girls are denied the same access to education as boys. But at the Happy Chandara School in Cambodia they are trying to change traditional attitudes and break down the gender barrier to education.
In Cambodia around half the population is under 18 years old. The country’s intellectuals disappeared during the Khmer Rouge genocide which claimed two million lives. The shortage of teachers means that class numbers are around 50 and schools only teach part-time. But Happy Chandara, built in 2006 by a French NGO, is different.
The school has 580 pupils, 31 of whom are weekly boarders like Ban Shrei Pich. Many girls at the school are victims of forced marriage or abuse. Being at school helps because here it is not enough to learn to read and write. Right from primary class, lessons are taught in Khmer, French and English and subjects include IT, sport, dance and civic education. The school says it prepares the children to take an active part in the Cambodia of tomorrow.
Inequality in education is not just a problem in the developing world, there are still imbalances in Western societies. In Norway, the Renate Centre in Trondheim uses a variety of creative approaches in recruiting girls to study sciences and technology, including a catwalk show of women wearing scientists’ workwear.
We caught up with one of their role models, Ida Aglen, a PhD student in Marine Technology, as she visited a secondary school. She said: “For me it was kind of a coincidence that I got to know about my career, or my future work, and now I think it’s really important that they know what kind of choices they have.”
The message is that these young women have exciting and challenging careers ahead of them, especially if they enter the fields of science and technology.
For more information see tagURLhttp://www.npd.no/en/Publications/Norwegian-Continental-Shelf/No1-2010/Selling-science-studies/￼
Some women manage to break way beyond the boundaries of their male dominated world. Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock is a top space scientist who has now passing on her knowledge and experience to a new generation of star gazers.
We spoke with her in London where she said: “Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a space scientist. I watched cartoons about space and I heard about people like Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong, and that just gave me the desire to just go out there one day. If you grab these opportunities and have a dream and aspire to things, you’ll be amazed what you can achieve.
“I think when I first told people I wanted to be a space scientist that as a black, dyslexic girl, people looked at me a bit strangely. But of the three, the biggest challenge was the dyslexia.
“I think many girls are put off a science career and I think mainly because they see it as boy-oriented and they don’t see themselves, if they are young and glamorous, fitting into that sort of area. So I think we need to encourage them. There is an image of a sort of fuddy duddy sort of guy.
Dr Aderin-Pocock concluded: “Why do we fight here on Earth? We fight over religion, we fight over race, we fight over land, we fight over oil, we fight so much, but in the scheme of things, the Universe is so vast, it’s like ants squabbling over a leaf! So my motto is “Make spaceships, not war!” You know it makes sense!”