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Why gender segregation in schools, colleges must be removed

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Photo: http://digitallearning.eletsonline.com

By Nithin Sridhar

Kerala Education Minister PK Abu Rabb has landed himself in a controversy after he commented: “I, as a minister and at a personal level, do not approve of boys and girls sitting together. But it is ok if they are on different chairs. Kerala does not have a culture of boys and girls sitting together.”

The issue of gender segregation in schools and colleges is not new, but the fact that this still exists as an unresolved issue speaks a lot about the direction our society is proceeding.

The Minister was actually reacting to the issue of suspension of a student from Muslim-run Farook College in Kozhikode who was suspended after he refused to apologize for sitting on a bench with girl students. The college had asked nine students consisting of both boys and girls to quit the class after they were found to be sitting on the same bench.

It appears that our schools and colleges are more interested in trivial issues than imparting quality education. Otherwise, why would the colleges always indulge in moral policing and imposing their sense of ‘culture’ on students, be it the imposition of dress codes or the imposition of gender segregation.

In the current scenario wherein rapes, sexual violence, and eve teasing have become rampant in the society, the gender segregation is doing more harm than good. In the present social environment, there is almost zero advantage from this gender segregation.

In the olden days, when the Gurukula system was prevalent, boys and girls were taught separately. But, the social conditions, as well as, the whole system of Gurukula was very much different from the current education system. In the current social scenario, the segregation of children based on gender is having a negative impact on both children and society.

At an individual level, the segregation has made children and youth under-confident, especially while interacting with those of opposite genders. Lack of interaction between boys and girls has kept them ignorant about emotions and behavioral traits of opposite genders. Further, this segregation has given rise to increased curiosity and desire for experimentation and exploration regarding the issues related to opposite genders that may lead to undesirable effects ranging from too much addiction to pornography to eve-teasing.

When such children grow up and become adults, many find it very difficult to work in offices wherein interactions with colleagues of opposite gender is inevitable. They will be afraid, unconfident, and many may end up in trouble due to miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Many of the women related issues present in the society are also rooted in this gender segregation. Depression due to rejection in love, eve-teasing, sexual harassment, are all rooted in the fact that, men who perpetrate these crimes do not recognize that women are also human beings who deserve freedom and dignity. The commodification and objectification of women in media have further complicated the situation.

The only manner in which these issues can be addressed is by making boys and girls study together from childhood without any segregation and discrimination. When boys and girls grow up together, then they will begin to perceive members of the opposite gender as being humans just like them.

Further, children will be able to appreciate the biological and emotional differences between boys and girls and accept each other for who they are. This will make them develop respect towards members of the opposite gender.

Such boys and girls will grow up to become confident individuals who are well educated on the interpersonal level. They are also less likely to indulge in actions like eve-teasing, mistreating of women, etc.

This is not to suggest that removing gender segregation by itself will miraculously solve all the problems of society. Instead, removing gender segregation will act as a first step and will go a long way in addressing many of the gender-related issues.

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More Science Careers: African School Of Physics on Mission To Educate New African Generation Through Traveling Program

"Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement," she wrote in an email. She noted "increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce."

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Ketevi Assamagan, a particle physicist at the U.S.-based Brookhaven National Laboratory, co-founded the African School of Physics, a training program for graduate students in math and sciences. (Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory) VOA

Africa-born particle physicist Ketevi Assamagan is a man on a mission. His goal is to bring science education to a new generation of young Africans through a traveling program known as the African School of Fundamental Physics and Applications, or ASP.

“Sometimes, people just need some help to be able to find the right resources,” said Assamagan, an ASP founder who works at the U.S. Energy Department’s Brookhaven National Laboratory here on Long Island. “So, together with some colleagues, we decided to create this school.”

Born in Guinea, Assamagan grew up in Togo and earned a doctorate from the University of Virginia in 1995. Gratitude to past mentors fueled his desire to start the ASP, he said.

Positive elements

The ASP program runs for three weeks every two years in a different African country. The first was in 2010 in South Africa, with subsequent gatherings in Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda and Namibia. The next is planned for July 2020 in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Each workshop brings together up to 80 students, who are treated to intensive lectures and training by top-flight physicists.

Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)
Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)

“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.”

The students’ expenses are covered by roughly 20 international sponsors, including the Brookhaven lab; the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy; the South African Department of Science and Technology; and Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics.

Another sponsor has been the European Center for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, in Geneva. Assamagan worked on CERN’s particle accelerator for several years while conducting research on the elusive Higgs boson subatomic particle. He left in 2001 to join Brookhaven.

Sustained support

After the program, participants are paired with senior mentors who offer advice on additional education, teaching and research opportunities, both in Africa and abroad.

For Zimbabwe native Last Feremenga, participation in the 2010 ASP workshop served as a springboard to a doctorate in physics from the University of Texas. Now he’s a data scientist with Digital Reasoning, an artificial intelligence firm headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I sift through large datasets of written text in search of rare forms of conversations/language. These rare conversations are useful for our clients from health care to finance,” the 32-year-old told VOA in an email. He added that he’s using “similar tactics” to those he learned at ASP.

Julia MacKenzie, senior director of international affairs for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says training programs such as ASP are especially important in developing countries.

“Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement,” she wrote in an email. She noted “increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce.”

“A potential impact of graduate training is exposure to new ideas and people,” MacKenzie added. “Any time graduate students can come together, it’s likely that new friendships will form, and those relationships can provide support through inevitable challenges and spawn new collaborations.”

application learning
“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.” Pixabay
Hands-on learning

Assamagan says that when he was in high school in Togo, science was taught from second-hand textbooks from abroad. There was no experimentation.

“Direct involvement … in terms of playing with things and getting mental challenge to try to figure it out was not really there,” he said. “We want to resolve that” through ASP.

The 70 or so science teachers at the workshop last year in Namibia learned hands-on experiments that could be replicated with scant equipment and resources.

For example, using only a small plastic box with an aluminum plate, tin foil, Styrofoam, pure alcohol and dry ice, high school students could build a tabletop “cloud chamber” to simulate the detection of cosmic particles from outer space. Another experiment taught physics to elementary school children by way of art. The children could drip paint on a canvas tilted at various angles, then observe the patterns the paint made as it descended.

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“You can then start introducing the idea of gravity,” Assamagan said. “And then relating things falling down to the Earth going around the sun as being driven by the same force.”

Assamagan predicts a bright future for physics research in Africa. He says he sees talent and commitment, but that more digital libraries, along with continent-wide access to high-speed internet connections and the political will to provide them, are needed. (VOA)