PRETORIA – MONDAY, 25th AUGUST, 2014 – NINE girls from various rural secondary schools in Zambia are in South Africa to attend a one-week science exposition that is aimed at introducing them to science-career advancement opportunities.
The girls, who have joined 10 others from Zimbabwe and 11 from South Africa, were drawn from rural schools in five of the 10 provinces of Zambia.
The 30 girls will be at the expo dubbed Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Expo (or STEM Expo) in Johannesburg for the next six days. The theme for the event, which has been organised by Taungana Africa, is ‘Decoding STEM Careers’.
Taungana Africa founder, Ms. Sandra Tererai said at the opening of the expo at Sci-Bono Discovery Centrein Johannesburg yesterday that the event was meant to provide high school girls from rural disadvantaged communities with a world-class opportunity to access and explore the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Ms. Tererai said in line with the SADC Protocol on Science, Technology and Innovation, Taungana was a regionally integrated approach to tackling the socio-economic and gender hindrances to STEM involvement for rural high school girls in sub-Saharan Africa with an initial focus on Southern Africa.
She pointed out that the Taungana STEM Expo was a practical STEM career guidance programme that will give the 30 rural high school “ambassadors” in the Southern African region an opportunity to connect with STEM professionals, get exposure to leading STEM organisations, STEM career paths, and most importantly – become STEM promotion ambassadors in their own communities.
She observed that technology was fast moving and changing, and that with each step of progress made in promoting STEM in urban communities, one community in rural areas was further left behind.
“This is the same community that needs STEM development to the most in areas of sanitation, healthcare, infrastructure, and others. According to UNESCO, an estimated 2.5 million new engineers and technicians are required in sub-Saharan Africa alone to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of improved access to clean water and sanitation. To achieve such aims, we need to attract every young mind to engineering, especially in the developing world, where attracting more women to fields in which they are underrepresented must be part of the solution,” Ms. Tererai said.
She noted that statistics continued to show the underrepresentation of females in multiple STEM fields though initiatives to bridge this gap were being rolled out continuously at a global scale. The numbers showed that women held less than 25% of STEM jobs in the US, and less than 16% in the UK (excluding medicine). In technology, the figures showed that more than half of women in technology left their employers at the mid-level point in their careers while data from sub-Saharan educational institutions showed continued under-representation of females in STEM programmes.
Access to information and exposure to the application of STEM education in career paths was, however, limited for students in rural schools in the Southern African region. This includes access to model STEM careers, professional role models, support structures and education advancement opportunities.
“To foster innovation and economic development in African countries, it is important to bring women, starting with our own girls, to the STEM problem solving table. Hence the need for the efforts by Taungana and all the organisations supporting the actualisation of this movement to be embraced.”
First Secretary for Education at the Zambian High Commission in South Africa, Mrs. Emmerentiana Bweupe, said the event was a rare initiative in that it had been designed in a fashion that many other individuals or organisations had feared to venture into. Mrs. Bweupe was optimistic that the initiative will go a long way in contributing to the development of Africa because it focused on fields which were critical if communities were to attain meaningful advancement.
She commended the 30 girls for making it through to the final stage of the selection process and urged them to realize that they were privileged in the sense that such opportunities did not come easily. “There are several other girls out there who would have loved to be part of this. You were targeted and carefully selected so that you could come and get real-life exposure to STEM careers from high fliers in South African science and technology-based firms. That should make you even more resolved to ensure that you learn and take away something from here which you can go back and utulise to help in the improvement of life in your respective communities.”
She urged the girls to ensure that they interact and establish life-long relations “so that in the next 10 years or so, we will hear that, among you, there are engineers, pilots, technicians, technologists, and other such fields. Take this as a stepping stone, the beginning of bigger things in your lives.”
Mrs. Bweupe urged the participants to realize that they could also be just like the role models that the organisers have arranged to meet with the girls as part of the programme.
She said there were several girls in rural areas who were not only keen to pursue science and technology-based subjects but were also endowed with abundant capabilities to handle STEM subjects but it was regrettable that such girls were not privileged to be able to explore and put their capabilities to use.
“This is why Taungana Africa is critical as it is identifying and exposing such girls to these fields, which are critical to the development of our countries.”
The nine Zambian participants are Chileshe Bwalya and Marrian Chitalu (Luapula); Chipo Manda and More Musamba (Central); Chibwe Chishimba (Western); Monica Chitimbwa and Odilia Kapacha (Northern); Chipo Kabayame and Florence Mulongo (Southern). They have been accompanied by Ms. Ndiyoi Muliwana from the Ministry of Education and Ms. Regina Mtonga from Asikana Network, as their patrons.
HIGH COMMISSION OF ZAMBIA IN SOUTH AFRICA
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