Discrimination should not limit students' access to STEM resources
Everyone deserves to have access to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) resources, programs and opportunities regardless of their race, religion or gender. This should go without saying, but a recent event has demonstrated that even today, politics can come between girls and STEM opportunities by preventing an all-girls team from Afghanistan from entering the United States for an international robotics competition.
Over the past few months, a team composed of six Afghan girls had been hard at work on their ball-sorting robot, and at last they were ready to make the almost 7,000 mile journey to the United States. But after receiving news that their visa applications had been denied, they were justifiably heartbroken.
All these girls wanted was a chance to present their hard work and efforts by competing and to inspire other young children to follow their lead. In their team statement they wrote, "Most breakthroughs in science, technology and other industries normally start with the dream of a child to do something great. We want to be that child and pursue our dreams to make a difference in people's lives."
That is why the team's visa denial is so disappointing. These students are seizing an opportunity unattainable for many people in their country in an effort to become young leaders in STEM, only to be denied entrance to the U.S. twice and forced to watch the competition via Skype back at home.
Ever since the Muslim terrorist group Al-Qaeda launched attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, many Americans have begun to fear for their safety, and therefore associate all Muslims with terrorism. Unfortunately, President Trump's administration officials have not done much to calm these fears. Rather, they have expanded them by repeatedly attempting to pass a controversial travel ban on immigrants and refugees from Muslim majority countries. However, it's worth noting that FIRST robotics teams from other Muslim majority countries mentioned in the travel ban, such as Iran and Syria, have been allowed to compete in the competition. Therefore, there's no legitimate reason as to why the Afghanistan girls were prevented from traveling to the U.S in the first place.
Fortunately, on July 12, the girls were finally granted approval to travel to D.C after the Department of Homeland Security approved a request from the State Department for the entire team and Mahboob to attend the competition.
After receiving news of the team's approval, FIRST Global President John Sestak rejoiced and spoke out in favor the agency's decision in a statement . "I truly believe our greatest power is the power to convene nations, to bring people together in the pursuit of a common goal and prove that our similarities greatly outweigh our differences," he said.
Although the situation regarding the girls' visas was resolved, the situation brings to light the importance of a STEM education for young children. Providing access to appropriate STEM resources and materials is an issue that is not limited to the United States or Afghanistan. It's a global issue, and a critical one. Around the world, many young, aspiring students are not given sufficient opportunities to engage themselves in STEM programs or careers. Therefore, when programs like FIRST Global give students valuable chances to show the world their passion and skills, they should be encouraged rather than turned away.
Reethi Padmanabhan. Editor More »