Meet Binta Moustapha, Founder of Elmira Schools, Nigeria

May 28, 2019


Binta’s Biography

Born in Kaduna-Nigeria, Binta has lived in 34/36 States of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. An aspiring Techplomat (Tech-Diplomat), Binta has a background in teaching Basic Science, Biology, Chemistry, Technical English and English as a Second Language for French West African Speakers. Binta has also been initiating and coordinating enrichment programmes to promote STEM for young Nigerians – especially girls/women. The teacher cum environmentalist has rallied around themes for World Environment Day hosted in June, annually, to enlighten and engage local communities about why conservation and preservation of the environment is a self-help project for mankind. With years of experience in Educational Administration which includes job roles as a Vice Principal Academics and Head Department for Mathematics Science and Technology, Binta has a passion for starting and growing young schools. She has been involved in three (3) of such projects, one of those both within Nigeria and the West African Subregion.

Why did you get into STEM?

Back in high school, it was a tradition for the school to place the top ten best students from each arm of the Junior Secondary School three (JSS3) end of second term examinations results into the Science class of the Senior Secondary School One (SSS1). It felt prestigious for parents and the candidate to qualify for the Science class and subsequently the only Public Girls Science College in town. Attending Maryam Babangida Girls Science College Minna Niger State-Nigeria felt like being on the path to becoming doctors, engineers and successful future brides of the crème de la crème of the society. This school in particular and others around the locality were adequately equipped with science laboratories. They were also reputed for winning prizes at co-curricular activities within the zones and at subnational levels especially at Science Teacher’s Association of Nigeria (STAN) and Junior Engineering and Technicians Scientists (JETS) outings. It was a pleasant feeling firstly – the drive to study STEM came later around the second term of the first year when I lay hands on the beautifully illustrated New School Chemistry by Osei Yaw Ababio and others with index pages/glossary with biographies of scientists especially the Curies.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Firstly, I am proud of the consistency in my educational and work background as someone who has always been involved in initiatives to promote career and job opportunities for young Nigerians in STEM. These backgrounds have included being the President of the Junior Engineering Technicians and Scientists Club (JETS) in High School, reviving the Junior Engineering Technicians and Scientists Club (JETS) during the compulsory one year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) under the able leadership and support of Mr Oru Principal Bishop Dimieari Grammar School Yenagoa Bayelsa State-Nigeria, reviving and spearheading the JETS and Enrichment Activities of the School’s in Calabar Cross River State Nigeria where I worked between April 2009 to December 2014. It has been a blessing to proceed to found a non-profit organization in 2010 with the sole purpose of promoting STEM education with support in time and consideration by personalities such as my friend, brother and husband Engr. Bachir Moustapha, Prof Zsolt Lipscey, Late Prof UJ Ekpe (may his soul find mercies) & wife Prof S Ekpe, Prof A.I Menkiti, Prof Ani Nkang all of University of Calabar-Calabar Nigeria. It is with humility that I look back to these timelines and reel in great pride like a peacock to be confirmed for a 2014 Techwomen Fellowship along with five other Nigerian women in STEM and Technology from a pool of over hundreds of applications.

I can’t conclude without patting myself on the back for the dexterity with which the insecurities/risk associated with hosting residential STEM Summer Boot Camps for girls in Nigeria have been managed into an online STEM goto platform. Until 2014 when young girls from a School in Chibok and then Dapchi all in Borno State Nigeria were abducted, The Camp which includes crowning a CAMP Queen of Mathematics were signature events for activities with the goal of promoting STEM for young Nigerians. There have been successful editions in Cross River State and the Yankari Game Reserve Bauchi State-Nigeria.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how have you overcome them?

Sincerely just like with other job groups! The challenges for a woman in STEM are the general maintaining work-life balance especially if married or/and raising a young family and proving that you qualify for opportunities. Women are promoted based on experience while men are promoted based upon potential – therefore women like most stereotypes against minority groups need to work twice as much for opportunities, mentorships and promotions.

Amongst the STEM fields, this bias is most observable in engineering, while women with children are seen as “less committed” at work. My challenges and experiences portrayed the assertions above – I always joked about the fact that women with toddlers should include risk and disaster management to the skills column of their résumés and curriculum vitae in addition to all the amazing things we do such as holding half the sky and raising mankind. Children are natural scientists! They want to explore – mothers help humanity to nurture these skills and therefore qualify for careers in STEM. Like Stephanie Slocum wrote in her book, She Engineers, there is more attrition of women in STEM than men. This is not due to the lack of maths skills or competence at the tertiary institutions but largely due to gender stereotypes against women in the workplace. For example, despite my excellence at school, I birthed five (5) children between 2007 and 2015 – I was either pregnant or nursing a new gentleman/lady most of my growing years in the career ladder. Employers of labour note these and therefore even if qualified you might not attend workshops; conferences and other professional development opportunities to upskill for growth.

Women are still regarded as the primary caregivers and therefore burdened with challenges of maintaining the homefront in addition to maintaining a career. To overcome these challenges, one needs a support system both at work and at home with one’s spouse/partner! Crèches and workplace feeding rooms need to be encouraged. We need to continually press for the six-month maternity leave for women and paternity leave to enable men to provide support for their spouses/partners. It is great for the wellness of the society.

Planning ahead and mentoring someone to step into your role without malice that your job might be taken also helps! I almost had my fourth child in November 2013 in the Biology laboratory of the school where I was employed because of the determination to ensure that no job was carried over before proceeding for maternity leave. I birthed the young man thirty minutes after stepping out of the laboratory. I am grateful for my supervisor/principal, Barr. Mrs JK Ukah and Proprietress Barr Mrs Anne O ETA, back then who believed in my other innate abilities/soft skills which could be channelled into other areas of the establishment. It is tough for private establishments to commit to these labour requirements, and unfortunately, the public service can’t employ everyone.

What is your advice to budding women in STEM?

Technology is revolutionizing the way we live life and the way things are done. There are more career opportunities in STEM beyond Medicine and Engineering than ever before in the workplace. Tech companies are the new sheriffs in town, not oil companies – Women in STEM can innovate career and entrepreneurship opportunities via solving problems in their communities using technology tools. From Fintech to Agriculture, Educational, Environmental Protection and Health – there is so much to do in this age of Artificial Intelligence and upcoming opportunities in the Cyberspace.

Social Media platforms have their awesomeness redefined. From Twitter to Google Scholar to YouTube videos, they provide ample career support; advancement opportunities; mentorship and consideration for life outside of work. They also provide flexible scheduling for women, especially those who desire to work from home.

Women possess the aptitude, skills, knowledge and expertise to be excellent in STEM – with a little bit of flexibility in the workplace, career support and less stereotyping.

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