girlsinsouthafrica

From June 24 through July 5 2019, Vodacom initiated its Code Like a Girl program in South Africa. In South Africa 70 girls were provided with the opportunity to take classes in engineering, math and coding. While one purpose of the communications company’s program was to narrow the gender gap, it means more for the country as a whole; it means the chance for sustainable jobs and prepares South Africa for the industrial revolution affecting all developing countries.

Early Stages of Code Like a Girl

Vodacom is a company based mainly in South Africa and nearby countries that is focused on mobile communications. It manages phones and data much like other companies, such as Verizon and Sprint, but on a more local scale. Even back in 2018, the company made plans to offer science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects to girls in different provinces and hopefully spark an interest in these courses.

The inspiration for this plan derived from a lack of female participation in STEM courses because only 35 percent of girls pursued any kind of career in these fields. Women are also underrepresented in STEM careers, as most of them are male-dominated.

Steven Barnwell, an executive manager for Vodacom, commented that while this career gap is beginning to close globally, “in many countries, including South Africa, the gap is widening in STEM careers.” Girls in South Africa with the backing of Vodacom’s coding program might be encouraged to pursue these daunting careers, now equipped with the know-how to prosper.

Initiating the Initiative

Phoenix, a township in South Africa, documented the course of the Code Like a Girl initiative in its local news. Managing executive Chris Lazarus detailed the process and how the girls chosen benefitted.

Firstly, 70 girls in the province of KwaZulu Natal, ages 14 through 18, had been selected to learn code. They were also advised to study communications as well as science and technology subjects. Participating in both STEM subjects and Vodacom’s initiative would foster problem solving and creative thinking.

Throughout the one-week course, the girls in South Africa learned the language of the computer and how to operate programs for developers such as GitHub and JavaScript. Finally, at the end of the week, each girl presented a website she developed by herself.

Lazarus proposed that providing coding skills allows girls to thrive in the transition to a technologically developed nation, saying “we aim to have young girls excel in the fourth industrial revolution. Through our project, we want a future free of the gender inequality, more so when it comes to jobs of the future.”

Looking at the Other Benefits

Currently, South Africa boasts one of the highest information, communications and technology (ICT) markets in Africa. ICT products and service cultivates in the markets. IT jobs, therefore, are currently sought after as the economy begins to focus on its thriving industry. Girls in South Africa pursuing coding now have the opportunity to jump into the influx of jobs, securing a sustaining and well-paying future.

While the economy prospers, 30.4 million citizens still remain in poverty. Nearly half of South Africa’s black females live below the poverty threshold, and many schools remain under-resourced. However, with Code Like a Girl spreading across provinces, girls living in poverty are presented with a unique opportunity and education when the program reaches their school. A gap then not only lessens between gender, but economic class as well.

South Africa is also on the brink of a digital revolution. Communities still remain in the process of transitioning to cellphones and schools are adopting technology in their classrooms, requiring both teachers and students to adapt. Girls inspired by Vodacom’s program may find themselves with an edge, already accustomed to the confusing languages of technology while the rest of society is still getting used to it.

Matimba Mbungela, Vodacom’s Chief Officer of Human Resources, commented to ITWeb Africa in regards to the students’ situation, saying, “it [is] necessary for us as the country’s leading digital telco to take it upon ourselves and launch this initiative to prepare young females, so they can adapt skills of the future and contribute in taking our economy forward.”

Inspired by ‘Code Like a Girl,’ girls in South Africa will find a unique position in society amidst the ever-changing world of technology.

– Daniel Bertetti
Photo: Flickr

Coding in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is primarily an agricultural country, with more than 80 percent of its citizens living in rural areas. More than 108.4 million people call Ethiopia home, making it Africa’s second-largest nation in terms of population. However, other production areas have become major players in Ethiopia’s economy. As of 2017, Ethiopia had an estimated gross domestic product of $200.6 billion with the main product coming from other sources than agriculture.

Today, 1.2 million Ethiopians have access to fixed telephone lines, while 62.6 million own cell phones. The country broadcasts six public TV stations and 10 public radio shows nationally. 2016 data showed that over 15 million Ethiopians have internet access. While 15 percent of the population may not seem significant, it is a sharp increase in comparison to the mere one percent of the population with Internet access just two years prior.

Coding in Ethiopia: One Girl’s Success Story

Despite its technologically-limited environment, young tech-savvy Ethiopians are beginning to forge their own destiny and pave the way for further technological improvements. One such pioneer is teenager Betelhem Dessie. At only 19, Dessie has spent the last three years traveling Ethiopia and teaching more than 20,000 young people how to code and patenting a few new software programs along the way.

On her website, Dessie recounts some of the major milestones she’s achieved as it relates to coding in Ethiopia:

  • 2006 – she got her first computer
  • 2011- she presented her projects to government officials at age 11
  • 2013-she co-founded a company, EBAGD, whose goals were to modernize Ethiopia’s education sector by converting Ethiopian textbooks into audio and visual materials for the students.
  • 2014-Dessie started the “codeacademy” of Bahir Dar University and taught in the STEM center at the university.

United States Collaboration

Her impressive accomplishments continue today. More recently, Dessie has teamed up with the “Girls Can Code” initiative—a U.S. Embassy implemented a project that focuses on encouraging girls to study STEM. According to Dessie, “Girls Can Code” will “empower and inspire young girls to increase their performance and pursue STEM education.”

In 2016, Dessie helped train 40 girls from public and governmental schools in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia how to code over the course of nine months. During those nine months, Dessie helped her students develop a number of programs and projects. One major project was a website where students can, according to Dessie, “practice the previous National examinations like SAT prep sites would do.” This allows students to take practice tests “anywhere, anytime.” In 2018, UNESCO expanded a similar project by the same name to include all 10 regions in Ghana, helping to make technology accessible to more Africans than ever before.

With the continuation of programs like “Girls Can Code” and the ambition of young coders everywhere, access to technology will give girls opportunities to participate in STEM, thereby closing the technology gender gap in developing countries. Increased STEM participation will only serve to aid struggling nations in becoming globally competitive by boosting their education systems and helping them become more connected to the world in the 21st century.

– Haley Hiday
Photo: Flickr