President Paul Kagame has acknowledged that the gender gap in science subjects is a global phenomenon but warned that should not be an excuse to accept it.
“The gender gap in Science is a global phenomenon but that is no reason to accept it as inevitable. Whatever the causes may be, we have to dedicate ourselves to closing the gap because opportunity will never be equal without equal access to knowledge,” Kagame told a gathering at the second edition of the Next Einstein Forum (NEF) in Rwanda’s capital Kigali.
More than 1200 leading scientists, policymakers, business leaders, civil society leaders and entrepreneurs are attending a three-day forum aimed at showcasing Africa’s contributions to the global scientific endeavor and how this impacts Africa’s transformation.
For too long, Kagame said, Africa has allowed itself to be left behind. He however, acknowledged that “that is starting to change as we see in the important work on display at this forum.”
“But as Africa catches up to the rest of the world, we cannot afford to leave our women and girls out of the equation,” Kagame said.
Addressing the forum, President Kagame said that science is not just filling heads with information and performing well in exams.
For him, “The purpose is to apply that knowledge to solve the problems facing our continent and our world. That requires an innovation, ecosystem in which government, business and educational institutions all enforce each other,” he said.
The President told participants that there is a need to build on the initiatives underway to create more productive linkages between the African research and innovation community both in Universities and startup firms.
The President said that human progress is after all grounded in the mastery of Science and mathematics. “When researchers and commercial entreprises apply capabilities to practical problems, they discover innovations that save lives and transform economies.”
According to President Kagame, knowledge economies are prosperous economies. “Today, more than never before, adequate maths and science proficiency is a prerequisite for a nation to attain high income status and the gains in health and wellbeing that go along with it.”
Science has roots in Africa
Despite little visibility or attributions to greatest scientists that have existed, Thierry Zomahoun – the Founding Executive Director and current President and CEO of African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) said that today’s forum is an opportunity to celebrate Africa’s contributions to global science.
“We are here today to celebrate the contributions of Africa to global science. Africans were the first to count and the continent was the place where humans started counting for the first time. Not only Africa is the cradle of humanity but arguably suggest that Africa is the cradle of mathematics,” he said.
For instance, Zomahoun said that the Dogon people of Mali in West Africa discovered the detailed astronomical observations despite little or no tools at the time.
Historically, the Dogon are believed to be of Egyptian decent and their astronomical lore goes back thousands of years to 3200 BC.
According to their traditions, the star Sirius has a companion star which is invisible to the human eye. This companion star has a 50 year elliptical orbit around the visible Sirius and is extremely heavy. It also rotates on its axis.
Meanwhile, AIMS co-founder Prof. Neil Turok said that “The progress of science has never been more exciting, and the reach and impact has never been greater.”
The Vice Chair of the board of management of Robert Bosch foundation, Uta-Micaela Dürig, said that over 50% of NEF participants are under the age of 40, and almost half are women. “This is the signal we want to send. This is how the future looks like.”
According to Micaela Dürig, “Unlocking the potential of young people is key.”
Launched in 2013, the Next Einstein Forum is an initiative of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in partnership with Robert Bosch Stiftung.
It creates a platform that connects science, society and policy in Africa and the rest of the world – with the goal to leverage science for human development globally.
Police makers and scientists under NEF believe that Africa’s contributions to the global scientific community are critical for global progress.
For the continent to push Science to the next level, Thierry Zomahoun said that “Africa needs to establish a strategic development ecosystem, and to bridge the science gender gap. Africa’s women and girls have science and entrepreneurship in their blood,” he said.