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Volume 39, Number 2
Winter 2002


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Gender Inequity in Industrial and Technical Education in Nigeria: Parents' Perspectives in the 21st Century

Hassan Ndahi
Old Dominion University

Nigeria is a country with ethnic groups that speak different languages, practice different religions, and have different customs and traditions. These differences had a significant impact on the development of western education before and after the country's independence in 1960. Prior to the introduction of western education, "traditional" education was all about manual training and character building for young children. Learning a trade was part of the culture irrespective of one's tribe or region.

People from different regions specialized in certain trades. For example, people in the mid-western region were known for brass work; in the eastern region, for their excellent work in woodcarving; in the northern region, for leather works; and iron casting was associated with people in the central part of the country. Whatever part of Nigeria one visited, the people were known to be associated with a certain trade. Learning a trade was a way to make a living; therefore, parents played an important role in determining what trade children began to learn at a very early age, in order to support a family when they grew up. Boys were exposed to different trades outside the home, while girls were limited to activities within the home to prepare them to be "good mothers" and obedient wives and sisters (Nka, 1974; Zuga, 1998). These practices continued for over a hundred years after the introduction of western education by missionaries and well into the 20th century. One gender group was favored over the other; not because of the group's interests or abilities but rather because of the belief concerning what role the gender group should play in society.

The first school to offer a western type of education in Nigeria was established in 1845 by the Church of Missionary Society (CMS). This was the beginning of western education. The curriculum did not include technical courses, but was loaded with religious and literary arts courses (Ikejiani, 1965; Fafunwa, 1971). The missionaries at that time were more concerned about the religious life of the people, and so needed individuals who would study the Bible and interpret it to the people in their local language. Traditional education continued side by side with western education until the missionaries saw the need to include pre-vocational courses in the curriculum.

Industrial and vocational courses were introduced when a training institution was opened in 1853. Courses in carpentry, cooking, household management, tailoring, and metalwork were taught (Molokwu, 1990; Ikejiani, 1965). Subsequent to the effort of the missionaries, the "British colonial government" introduced vocational courses in the primary school curriculum. Grants were provided for the first time in agricultural and pre-vocational courses (Taiwo, 1974). Between 1908 and 1935, government departments such as the Nigerian Railway Corporation and the Public Works Departments, as well as companies in the private sectors such as Shell-BP, United Technical Company, and United African Company, established training schools for their technicians (Taiwo, 1980; Fafunwa, 1971). The involvement of the private sector came as a result of the need for technicians to maintain the equipment as these companies expanded their businesses.

During the early period of the development of technical education in Nigeria, a technician was considered a male who could repair mechanical or electronic devices or products (turn screws, nuts, and bolts). It was not conceivable at that time to think of a female as a technician; therefore, enrollment in these technical institutions was strictly boys for industrial technical education courses and girls for the vocational home economics. The separation of industrial and home economics education for boys and girls respectively was by design for many obvious reasons. It, however, showed a pattern that conformed to the traditional education.

Although western education continued to grow rapidly in southern and eastern Nigeria (Falola, 1999), it was slower in the northern part of the country. In the north, school enrollment was predominantly boys. Girls were encouraged, or forced in some ethnic groups, to marry at an early age. This practice resulted in widening the gender gap in school enrollments. The disparity was clear in enrollment numbers in the 1964-65 university academic year. The total number of students enrolled in the five universities in the country at that time was 6,719. Of these numbers, only 591 (8%) were women (Fafunwa, 1971). The women were mostly enrolled in courses such as the arts, business, education, law, and home economics. They were discouraged from studying courses or programs in industrial and technical education, which the majority of women saw as a "male" profession. Many women lost interest in the field, while others tried to enter and were rejected.

Background

Parents play a significant role in shaping the direction or path their children follow in their later years. Otto (2000) investigated young people's perceptions of parental influence on their career development and concluded that both boys and girls look to their parents when they make career choices. Girls indicated that their interest or lack of interest in technical courses was based on their parents' opinion about the field of study (Ndahi, 1987). Another study found that girls and women faced inequities, did not achieve at their expected levels, and did not choose career options compatible with their cognitive abilities (Badolato, 1998). Several factors, including parents' attitudes, were responsible for these anomalies.

Parents from different groups have different types of influence on the educational and occupational decisions of both boys and girls in the family (Lankard, 1995). Parents who believe that their own role is important for their children's achievement tend to be more controlling and to be keener in developing the child's interest (Georgiou, 1999). Family processes of interaction and communication, as well as beliefs and attitudes, influence what the child learns about work and work experiences. Parental influences are also transmitted through children's gender role assignments in the homes (Cunningham, 2001), and in some societies girls are limited to certain roles, while boys have almost unlimited roles. Furlong (1986) has concluded that the influence exerted by the educational system is limited, given the strength of parental influence.

Purpose of the Study

In the past, neither traditional nor western education in Nigeria encouraged or provided equal opportunities for women to enter the field of industrial and technical education (Erinosho, 1997; Ndahi, 1987). Factors such as low level of parental literacy; religious, cultural, and traditional beliefs; and lack of effort by the government have contributed to gender inequity in industrial and technical education programs. The purpose of the study was to (a) determine parents' perceptions about their daughters enrolling in industrial and technical education programs in the 21st century; (b) determine whether there is a relationship between the variables age, parents' level of education, and beliefs about girls studying industrial and technical education; and (c) find out what efforts are being made by governmental and non-governmental organizations to encourage girls and provide them the opportunity to select a career in industrial and technical education programs.

Methodology

A descriptive research method was used to obtain information concerning parents' opinions about women's participation in technical fields of study. The research design was the One-Shot Case Study in which a group is studied once, subsequent to some agent or treatment presumed to cause change (Campbell & Stanley, 1963). The current situation as perceived by parents about their daughters' enrolling in industrial and technical education program will be explained.

Instrument

The instrument used to gather data for this study was designed, in part, by the researcher. Some of the items on the survey relate to findings of a study of girls' attitudes towards technical education in secondary schools in Nigeria (Ndahi, 1987). A Likert-type survey based on a four point scale, (Strongly Disagree 1, Disagree 2, Agree 3, and Strongly Agree 4) was used. Parents were asked to rate their levels of agreement or disagreement to statements of belief or attitude about industrial and technical education programs. A few open-ended and demographic questions seeking respondent's free opinions and information about their age, profession, and level of education were included in the survey. The instruments were hand distributed and collected by a volunteer, because the mail system in the country was not reliable.

The instrument was field tested by administering it to parents in a metropolitan area with similar demographic characteristics (i.e., mostly educated government and private sector workers). The data was analyzed using descriptive statistics. While the instructions for completing the survey were clear, two questions were found to be misleading. One question was removed from the survey and the other modified. Overall, the instrument was determined to adequately measure what it was intended to measure.

Population and Sample

The researcher used a purposive random sampling method to select the sample. A total of 160 surveys were distributed to parents who agreed to participate in the study. Of the 160 surveys, 110 were completed and returned, a 69% response rate. Although this is an acceptable percentage in a random sampling (Babbie, 1973), the result cannot be generalized to other cities in Nigeria because of the small sample size, and because demographic characteristics will vary in other cities. However, this study can form a baseline for further studies with a much larger sample size. The population was drawn from the new federal capital, Abuja. This city was chosen because people from all parts of Nigeria, speaking different languages and having different religious beliefs, customs, and traditions, are represented. The population of the city is made up of government and private sector workers, most of whom are educated.

Data Analysis

Descriptive statistics produced with the SAS program were used to analyze the data. Frequencies and percentages were generated to describe the number of respondents agreeing or disagreeing with each statement. A correlation analysis with α = 0.05 and critical value = 0.300 was used to describe the relationships between the variables "age," "level of education," and several statements of beliefs. The responses for the open-ended questions were coded and categorized based on patterns of responses. A narrative summary including direct quotes was made to further explain the data.

Research question 1: Are the variables "age" and "level of education" related to parents' decisions about their girls enrolling in industrial and technical education programs?

It was certainly important to look at age and level of education, bearing in mind the development of education in Nigeria. Between 1853 and 1958 there was no university in Nigeria, and between 1960 and 1962 there were only five universities with a total enrollment of fewer than 7,000 students. Only privileged individuals received a university education. However, in the 1980s and 1990s more and more young people had access to postsecondary education, and today there are more than 32 universities, 30 polytechnics, and 345 colleges of education.

Twelve respondents (10.9%) were within the age range of 18-29 years, and thirteen respondents (11.8%) were between the ages of 30-34. Thirty-eight respondents (34.5%) were within the age range 35-44, and 35 respondents (31.8%) were within the age range 45-59. No respondent was in the age range 60 years and above. The data also showed that 16 respondents (14.5%) had either the Ordinary School Diploma Certificate or the National Diploma (ND), and 60 respondents (54.5%) had either an undergraduate degree or the Higher National Diploma (HND). Twenty-six respondents had a Master's degree; only 2 respondents (1.8%) had doctoral degrees.

Correlation analysis (Table 1) further shows that there was a relationship (0.19019) between parents' age and the belief that it was not important for girls to enroll in industrial and technical education programs. There was a relationship (0.0655) between parents' age and the belief that their religion forbids girls to study industrial and technical education. There was also a relationship (0.20791) between parents' age and the belief that girls who study industrial and technical education do not get married. No relationship between parents' age and their level of education was found.

Parents' level of education was related (0.18349) to the belief that it was not important for girls to study industrial and technical education, and also related (0.17341) to the belief that their religion forbids girls enrolling in industrial and technical education. However, parents' level of education was not related (0.32274) to the belief that girls who study industrial and technical education do not get married.

Table 1
Correlation analysis for variables "age," "level of education," and statements of beliefs about girls enrolling in industrial and technical education
 
 
 
 
 
Age
 
Educ.
Level
Importance of
Indust. and Tech.
Educ.
 
Religious
Belief
 
Belief &
Marriage
Age 1.000 0.330 0 .190 0 .065 0 .207
Educ.
Level
 
 
1.000
 
0 .183
 
0.173
 
0 .322
 

Note. α = 0.05. Critical Value = 0.300


Research Question 2: To what extent are parents influenced by cultural and religious beliefs about industrial and technical education courses?

In Nigeria, customs and tradition, sometimes strengthened by religious beliefs, account for the ways boys and girls are educated, or the opportunities provided to them. Therefore, it was important to know whether most parents today hold views similar to those held by their parents and grandparents (Table 2). Ninety-one parents (82.7%) either disagreed or strongly disagreed that it was not important for girls to study industrial and technical education courses. Nineteen parents (17.3%) still agreed or strongly agreed that girls should not study or enroll in a male-dominated program. Interestingly, only five parents (4.5%) agreed that religion and culture forbid girls studying technical courses like their male counterparts. A significant number, 105 parents (95.5%), disagreed or strongly disagreed with the assertion that their religion and culture forbid girls studying the same courses as boys.

Table 2
Statements of beliefs about girls enrolling in industrial and technical education.
 
Item Statements
 
Disagree or
Strongly
Disagree
Agree or
Strongly Agree
 
It is not important for girls to study
industrial and technical education
courses
 
82.7%
 
 
17.3%
 
My religion/culture forbids girls to
study technical courses as their
boys counterparts
 
95.5%
 
 
4.5%
 
Girls who enroll in industrial and
technical education programs do
not get married
 
96.3%
 
 
3.6%
 
Girls should study the liberal arts
courses only
 
6.3%
 
93.7%

Four parents (3.6%) either agreed or strongly agreed that girls who enrolled in industrial and technical education programs do not get married, while the overwhelming majority, 106 parents (96.3%), disagreed or strongly disagreed with the assertion. About the same number, 103 parents (93.7%), disagreed or strongly disagreed that girls should study only the liberal art courses, and only seven parents (6.3%) believed that girls should study only the liberal arts courses.

Research question 3: Do parents have total responsibility for deciding for girls what courses or program to study?

In the past, most parents believed that it was their responsibility to choose or decide for their daughter what course to study The data showed that 88 parents (80%) disagreed or strongly disagreed that it is their responsibility to choose for their daughter what to study, and about the same number of parents (92, or 83.6%) agreed or strongly agreed that it is the responsibility of school counselors and teachers to decide the course of study for their daughters (Table 3). Parents were also asked to mention courses or programs they would like their daughters to study.

Table 3
Statements of responsibility for decisions about girls' courses of study
 
Item Statements
 
Disagree or
Strongly
Disagree
Agree or
Strongly
Agree
It is my responsibility as a parent to
decide for my daughter what course to
study
 
80.0%
 
 
19.8%
 
The school counselors and teachers
should guide girls in selecting a career
based on their interest and ability
 
15.4%
 
 
83.6%
 

Research question 4: What are parents' suggestions for involving girls and women in industrial and technical education professions and careers?

Because the study of industrial and technical education courses has been heavily male dominated, parents were asked to suggest ways by which this situation could be corrected. The suggestions included providing early counseling to girls about the choice of careers. Parents also felt that having female technical education teachers as role models in schools would encourage girls to believe they could follow the same path.

Some parents believed that the problem of gender equity in industrial and technical education programs was a result of lack of information about the profession. They suggested that voluntary agencies, government, industries, and women's associations be engaged in activities to educate the public about engineering professions and the opportunities that are available to women. According to one parent, a "consistent and powerful media campaign enlightening parents, guardians, and society on the importance of educating girls [is needed]."

Some parents called for a revision of the educational system by establishing separate schools or programs for girls. They felt that girls would learn better if some of the discrimination factors were removed. The overwhelming majority of parents called for a revision of the curriculum to suit the manner in which girls learn better. They felt the industrial and technical education curriculum was designed to fit the male majority and thus, according to parents, had drawn little or no interest from girls.

A significant number of parents agreed that they should do more to encourage their daughters to choose a career path in industrial and technical education. They should, as one parent said, "lay a very sound foundation for such courses for girls early in their education and encourage girls to take up career opportunities in industries."

Research question 5: What are governmental and non-governmental agencies' responsibilities in encouraging, or providing opportunities for, girls in industrial and technical education careers?

Some parents believed that in a democracy, there should be fair and equal access to education for both boys and girls. In the words of one parent: "Government should establish scholarships funds to help qualify female students study engineering courses." Another parent said: "Government should build schools for girls to study technical and science subjects because most of the technical colleges are mainly boys." They believed that leaving all efforts to the schools and their daughters alone could not bring about a change. A majority of the parents were of the opinion that the government should not only provide incentives for girls to pursue an education, but also enact legislation to protect women and girls and provide access to equal education and the workplace. According to some parents, the workplace has not been conducive for women, especially in the so-called male-dominated professions. They believed that laws should be enacted to protect women from any kind of discrimination or abuse. One parent said: "Government should remove all discriminatory policies against female education generally."

Some parents believed that their efforts and those of the government alone are not enough to change the situation girls' education is facing. They suggested that non-governmental associations such as women's associations, unions, and businesses can play a significant role in changing society's perception about girls studying and making a career in industrial and technical education programs. Some parents believed that industrial and technical companies should employ women and encourage those who decide to make a career in their companies.

Discussion

Parent's age and level of education

A study that investigated the background characteristics of Nigerian women in science and technology professions showed that women scientists had highly educated parents, especially fathers; and that more fathers than mothers were engaged in professions with a scientific orientation (Erinosho, 1997). The development of education in Nigeria before independence in 1960 was very slow; however, much progress has been made in the past 40 years. Compared to the past generation, more young people now have access to education. Results from this study showed that 88 parents (80%) had a college degree (Higher National Diploma or Undergraduate, Master's or Doctor's degree) and were within the age range 29-59 years. This may have influenced their beliefs and attitudes about girls' education.

Cultural and religious beliefs

There is evidence of a relationship between parents' attitudes about the intrinsic value of science and their perceptions of the value of science for women and their daughters' abilities (Jacobs, Finken, & Griffin, 1998). Although some Nigerians still believe in their traditional religion and customs, such beliefs do not entirely guide their decision making with regard to the education of their daughters. An overwhelming majority of parents, 82.7%, agreed that it was important for girls to study technical courses, and 93.7% would want their daughters to study any course of their choice or interest.

There has traditionally been some degree of concern for girls who study industrial or technical courses when it comes to the issue of marriage (Erinosho, 1997; Hill, 1998). With regard to anxiety about marriage, the data in this study showed that 106 parents (96.3%) did not agree that girls who study industrial technical education would find it difficult to get married, and about the same percentage (95.5%) of parents did not subscribe to the belief that their religion forbids girls studying the same courses as their male counterparts.

Shift in responsibility

Parents play a major role in the education of their children in most societies. Parents asked to choose subjects, courses, or programs for their children have, in some cases, perceived boys to be more competent than girls in science-related fields (Andre, Whigham & Hendrickson, 1999). The data in this study showed that some Nigerian parents are now shifting the responsibility for deciding what their daughters will study, with 80% disagreeing that it is their responsibility to decide for their daughters what they will study, and 83.6% (92) parents agreeing that school counselors and teachers should guide girls in selecting careers based on their ability and interest.

Government and non-government agency responsibility

Parents believed that government and non-governmental organizations needed to take on more responsibility for finding ways to encourage girls to study industrial and technical education courses. It was clear from the data that government and non-governmental organizations have done very little to encourage girls or protect them from the discrimination they face when working in male-dominated professions. Parents suggested that the government should enact laws to protect women, provide scholarships as incentives to girls who are qualified to study industrial and technical education, build separate schools for girls to study industrial and technical education, change the curriculum to reflect the ways in which girls would study industrial and technical education, and inform the general public of the importance of girls studying industrial and technical education.

The dominant culture in western society is the male culture, based not on size but on male influence on society (Zuga, 1999). This also seems to be the norm in non-western societies where there is gender inequity in terms of access to opportunities. In the case of Nigerian society, male dominance is reinforced by traditions and customs, including beliefs, be they religious or cultural. This study showed that the more educated the society, the less the influence of some of these underlying beliefs. In the past, the average Nigerian parent preferred to educate the male first, since he would be the potential "bread-winner," and it was believed that the girl would always find someone to take care of her whether she was educated or not (Fafunwa, 1971). This practice is not the norm among the new generation of educated Nigerian parents, at least those polled in this study. The current generation of Nigerian parents has come to realize the importance of educating both males and females, not only for economic purposes, but also for the social and political benefits to be gained.

It is important to note that about 50% of Nigeria's population is female, and if education of women for national development continues to be hindered, primarily by customs, early marriage, and religious practices, society as a whole suffers because a significant percentage of its population is not contributing fully (Oduaran & Okukpon, 1997; Abdulraman, 1992). Most parents in this study believed that the mistakes of the past could be corrected if there was the will to do so. The Nigerian government needs to meet this issue head on because previous governments, pre- and post-independence, as well as early missionary activities, overlooked the issue of women's involvement in industrial and technical education.

The curriculum should be modified so that women learners can have a sense of satisfaction in their own ways of learning. Teaching girls-only technology education courses has been used as an intervention program to bridge the gap between the sexes (Braundy, O'Riley, Petrina, Dalley, &ammp; Paxton, 2000). The curriculum should also reflect the differences in students' lives and cultures and encourage open discussion about the ways in which ascribed power can influence a person's life. Teachers should take the responsibility to foster gender-fair school environments (Bauer, 2000; Jones, Evans, & Byrd, 2000). A teacher's negative attitude toward a student can affect his or her self-esteem (Barnette, 1998), but sound pedagogical practices and social organization in classrooms can promote a gender inclusive experience, where women and men can participate and perform equally well (Mayer-Smith, Pedretti, & Woodrow, (2000).

In a fragile democracy like Nigeria, some may question the fairness and equality of the government's enacting laws specifically to protect and provide incentives to women. Others may view such action as reverse discrimination. I do not, however, believe that to be the case. It is a way to amend some of the mistakes that have been made for centuries with the backing of the law. Nobody will argue the fact that damage has been done to women's education, and fixing the problem with the backing of the law should not be taken as a form of discrimination. A comparison can be made with the United States: although much still needs to be done, Congress has made laws to provide equal opportunity for women, especially in the area of education. Direct action is needed because there is a relationship between gender and power in education, particularly when backed by national laws (Stromquist, 1995).

The issue of gender equity in education, regardless of country, must be of concern to the entire society. In Nigeria, non-governmental organizations have done little or nothing to advance the efforts of women, particularly in science and engineering professions and in education. In the United States, agencies such as the National Science Foundation and other associations have for many years promoted research on intervention programs to increase the number of girls enrolled in science and engineering.

Summary

Women and girls are an integral part of society and should contribute to its development. In Nigeria, women have been under-represented in many fields of science and engineering because early education, both traditional and western style, has not considered girls' education as important, particularly in the fields of industrial and technical education. This lack of emphasis has resulted in underdevelopment of the nation's industrial sectors, because half the country's citizens have not been contributing to their fullest potential. Any nation's effort toward industrial and economic development will be slow unless all its citizens are given the opportunity to participate in the task of nation building.

New generations of educated Nigerians have taken different views from those of their parents and grandparents, whose decisions about women and girls' education were mostly guided by religious, traditional, and cultural beliefs. The responsibility for choosing a program of study should be left to the individual and to experts such as school counselors. Furthermore, the schools should revise their curricula in science, mathematics, and engineering to reflect women's ways of learning.

Parents, teachers, and girls alone cannot make the changes necessary to bridge the gap between genders in industrial and technical education. Both governmental and non-governmental organizations must be part of the solution. They should develop intervention programs such as women's scholarships for research and, where possible, legislation to support gender equity programs.

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Ndahi is Assistant Professor in the Department of Occupational and Technical Studies at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. He can be reached at: hndahi@odu.edu.


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