Robotics is a rarely discussed topic in Ghana, not to talk of an all-girls robotics team competing on the international stage with peers from all over the world.
But an all- girls robotics team that was set up for the First Global Robotics Competition in Mexico in August 2018, took over the internet and set the tone of discussions about the future of robotics and the place for women in robotics in Ghana.
The 2018 First Global Robotics Competition under the team ‘Energy Impact’ sought to highlight the importance of various energy sources and how to make them sustainable.
How prepared were they for the competition?
On a late Tuesday morning, a commute through Accra’s tied up traffic ended at what seems to be the administration block of Lancaster University in Accra, Ghana where four energetic teenagers are seen busily assembling parts of a robot called Butterfly.
Commuting to the rehearsal space each week day and practicing for 6 hours for three weeks had become a routine they had become accustomed to since they were put together as Ghana’s representation for the First Global Robotics Competition early this year.
The girls had crowded over the robot on a tiled floor, each doing their part to ensure the robot worked as intended.
Equipment scattered around the practice area was a clear depiction of the level of work that had gone by since morning.
That was my first real encounter with a robot and what goes into assembling it.
The four girls: Abu-Sakyi Foriwaa, Enam Abla Dartey, Dillys Annan, Eyram Nud-Duwor are between the ages of 16 and 17.
The team from Wesley Girls High School was scheduled to represent Ghana at the First Global Robotics competition in Mexico from August 15, 2018 to August 18, 2018.
” I used to enjoy programming but when I joined the robotics team, I developed a huge interest in building and it helps me to put my ideas to play,” Abu-Sakyi Foriwaa, the team leader, told Africanpostonline in an interview.
“Through teamwork and rigorous preparation for the competition, I also learnt about Java and have significantly improved my coding skills,” another team member added.
Their countenance and moral to partake in the competition and advance higher was mimical to that of international athletes preparing for the Olympics.
However, same could not be said of their fiscal strength.
The team raised USD$16,000 out of USD$25,000 needed to cover travel and other expenses.
This amount was raised after the organization mentoring the team, STEMbees organized a fundraising cocktail party.
“A cocktail party was held to raise money to cover travelling expenses and other things but we could not reach our target; not even half of the amount needed,” Angela Koranteng , Co-founder of STEMbees, an organisation that engages Primary and Senior High School students In STEM related programmes,” told Africanpostonline.
“We secured enough funds to buy tickets for two of the girls and we were hopeful that people who had pledged will deliver before departure,” she added.
Funds was not the only challenge as the girls had to meander their way through fresh ideas that altered the original concept each time they worked on the robot to ensure it fulfills its tasks.
Although, unfazed by the challenges, they could not make it to the competition because of lack of enough funds to secure visas for the arduous task of representing their country.
All is not lost as they still represent the crop of vibrant young people who are changing the narrative about African women and girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths)
“It is really hard to raise funds locally no matter the course you are pursing and this is because an average Ghanaians has to give to different causes like supporting not just immediate but extended family members among others,” says Regina Honu, Founder of SoronkoAcademy- the first Coding and Human-Centered Design School for children and young adults in West Africa.
She suggested that getting all Ghanaian women in STEM involved would be very essential in raising funds for the competition next year.
She believes the annual robotics competition is one avenue to bring all women in STEM together to support an agenda that will set women on high pedestal.
Chartering a STEM course for girls in Ghana
STEMbees was founded in 2014 by Linda Ansong, Angela Koranteng and Lady-Omega Hammond who met at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology, a social entrepreneurship training incubator.
Buoyed by a strong STEM background, the trio established the organization to close the gender divide in STEM courses characterized by minimal female participation.
The organization focuses on middle school and high school girls introducing them to robotics, coding, 3D design and technology.
It also creates awareness on career opportunities in STEM other than the typical doctor and nurse professions.
Their goal is to contribute to the growth of the number of women in STEM and also build a cohort of women mentors to serve as role models for young girls.
Challenges in getting girls in STEM courses
One major barrier that the organisation and most STEM initiatives in Ghana are facing is stereotypical thinking which will take girls excelling at robotics competition like this to gradually change the narrative.
“The fact that people assume that STEM is a male dominated area. When you introduce a public-school girl to STEM courses, people automatically think you are trying to make them muscular or manly,” Miss Ansong said.
Lack of resources
Part of training girls in coding and ICT (Information Communication Technology) under STEM, require the use of computers and internet which is almost non-existent in most public schools thereby making the learning curve steep.
The bureaucratic tendencies at the Ghana Education Service (GES), and public schools, according to Ansong often stagnate STEM initiatives because most organisations must go through challenges to even get access to girls.
Attracting girls into STEM Courses
The organization seem to have found a viable approach to influence girls into STEM courses.
To get more girls involved, they start by introducing girls to IT (Information Technology), because it is more approachable compared to maths. Then other courses are gradually introduced once they get interested.
Ghana’s devoted GDP towards Science Research and Development stands at 1 percent, however, the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Prof. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng announced at the Next Einstein Forum Africa Science Week 2018 that it will be moved up to about 2.5 percent in the long term.