Girls in STEM addresses gender digital divide

The after-school programme will address shortage of females in science, tech, engineering and maths.

A Girls in STEM programme, which aims to uplift underprivileged female youth and address the shortage of female participants in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers, has been launched by fintech specialist e4.

Cognisant of the gender imbalance present in the science and technology industries worldwide, and particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, e4 has partnered with Melisizwe Computer Lab Project to provide schools in need with computer labs and IT skills training.

Ntombi Mphokane, e4’s HR and transformation executive, says, “With the rise of tech in today's society, it is crucial that we invest more into STEM education for girls to be able to pursue a sustainable and meaningful career path.”

She says that people were being left behind due to a lack of access to computers and associated skills. Many students have no access to computers and matriculate without knowing how to use a computer or how to type out a CV and apply for employment. “That is an issue that will only grow in time if not addressed now,” she adds.

The after-school programme is designed to pique girl learners’ interests and motivate them to take up STEM subjects in Grade 10. It introduces female learners to STEM concepts in Grade 9, the crucial year before girls tend to drop maths and science, as they are viewed by many as boys’ subjects.

This misconception can be attributed to a lack of support from parents and teachers, minimal exposure to the different careers women can enter with STEM subjects, a lack of female role models in these spheres and an unawareness of the ability of technology to transform systems and lives.

The programme is currently recruiting girls from two schools in Gauteng and candidates are selected on their attitude and aptitude. They are then provided with technical training in science, maths, engineering, end-user computing, software development and robotics.

Integral to the success of the programme is the mentorship offered by e4 personnel and other passionate women in the STEM industry, and the assistance given with personal development. The programme will run from Grade 9 until the year after matric, with the aim of girls taking up careers or further education in STEM.

“We are committed to addressing the digital gender divide and developing the next generation of young women leaders as the driving force behind digital innovation,” Ntombi says.

Candice Kern-Thomas, founder and director of Melisizwe Computer Lab Project, adds, “With youth unemployment at record highs and black females being the most vulnerable, we have to start investing in the right initiatives that have an actual measurable impact. We need more corporations to invest in the future of the youth, particularly in townships and rural communities, so the cycle of poverty can be alleviated.”