Women, girls’ inclusion in STEM crucial

Beaven Dhliwayo Features Writer

In Zimbabwe, more girls are going to school today than before. The Government and various organisations have made it a priority to increase girls’ access to education.

Previously, many girls did not have the opportunity to pursue education.
Globally, while just under 40 percent of women contribute to the global workforce, they make up roughly 60 percent of all professional workers.

Nevertheless, these numbers fall disturbingly as women enter tertiary education and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Zimbabwe is also adversely affected by the trend, and this needs to be addressed in this era of technology.
Last week, Purple Future Trust held the Next Einstein Forum (NEF) Africa Science Week Zimbabwe, which threw under spotlight the under-representation of girls and women in STEM.

The week saw a series of events led by NEF Ambassador to Zimbabwe Ian Nyasha Mutamiri, with the support of champions in academia and public and private sector stakeholders, to raise the profile of STEM in the country. Mutamiri told The Herald that in Zimbabwe, there were a number of issues that needed to be addressed so that under-represented communities access STEM opportunities.

“We believe there is much talent in underprivileged communities, and those children should be given a chance to exhibit their skills.

“Government should work hand in glove with the private sector to promote STEM, especially for women and girls,” he said.
“At Tariro House of Hope, children as young as 12 managed to build computers and robots, meaning if these kids are exposed to science, they can be able to give solutions to the problems the country is facing.”

Using the Purple Early Engineering Kit (PEEK), children were able to come up with solutions such as making computers and creating a system that automates homes.

This shows that Zimbabwe can reach greatness if it empowers its citizens with the right skills while encouraging girls to take up STEM subjects. Such innovations are required to empower young girls so that they will compete with their male counterparts in future jobs.

Studies show that over the next decade, workers will be required to have more complex skills sets requiring problem-solving abilities, strong non-cognitive skills such as social, communication and interpretative skills and at least a basic knowledge of information communication technologies (ICT).

PEEK introduces the basic concepts of electronics and programming in a fun and interactive way. The kit is for children aged seven and up, as well as parents and teachers who may or may not have a technical background.

It is meant to unlock a child’s inner inventing ability and give them an early advantage to think creatively in the technology space.

Parents can also be part of the learning experience as they will be able to use the kits to facilitate parent-child bonding, which accelerates learning. Policymakers should start paying attention to people who will be working at the grassroots levels and identify opportunities presented in empowering the girl child.

Zimbabwe should not be left out in a world which is highly connected and continuously supplied with cutting-edge digital advances.

The girl child should not be left out of STEM, which is forecast to drive jobs, innovation and the overall well-being of people in future.

All stakeholders should invest in STEM to transform and diversify the country’s economy and raise the skills level of future populations.

The world over, STEM is hailed as the ultimate solution to inclusive growth and sustainable development. If girls and boys are not encouraged to take science subjects, they will continue to be left on the other side of digital divide.

Purple Future Trust programmes coordinator Grace Pisirai told The Herald that another key challenge the country was facing in empowering girls in science are cultural barriers and negative stereotypes.

“Girls and women in particular are restricted from pursuing STEM education and careers for two main reasons. Firstly, professional aspirations are largely dictated by gender-oriented traditional thinking,” she said.

“Thus, job roles such as scientists, engineers, mathematicians and IT experts are considered as ‘better suited for men’. Secondly, boys are considered to be better at STEM, Maths in particular, than girls on average, which of course is scientifically proven to be incorrect.”

The mentality must be put to rest as it continues to discourage girls from a young age from pursuing careers in the fields of STEM.

Although many girls and women in the country are breaking barriers and embracing STEM, they are left with little to no support from making careers out of the same.

Most girls are disadvantaged in that they live in societies that have not caught up with the aspirations and skills of these trailblazers.

Going forward, the country’s mission should be to provide the best start for every child, especially in rural communities by empowering teachers. There is need to engage the academia to find creative ways to get girls and boys to be excited about STEM. This will go a long way in making children embrace lifelong learning while preparing themselves for a future of unpredictable challenges.

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