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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

STEM Education in Sri Lanka
On March 8, 2019, Microsoft hosted a #DigiGirlz conference for International Women’s Day at the Office of the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka to inspire 500 women to become more active in science, technology, engineering, math or STEM fields. The conference, which is a part of the company’s #MakeWhatsNext campaign, involved keynote speakers, group workshops and coding exercises with Microsoft MakeCode. #DigiGirlz helped create a voice for female role models for the students and worked to inspire teachers and parents to encourage STEM education in Sri Lanka.

Barriers to Women’s STEM Education

Microsoft’s goal for the conference was to show female students of Sri Lanka that entering STEM fields is a possible and attainable goal despite the country’s current workforce statistics. Currently, only one-third of the women in the country have entered the workforce, and the country holds the 14th largest gender pay gap in the world. Marriage also hampers women’s ability to hold a paying job in Sri Lanka’s workforce, decreasing odds by 26 percent.

One of the issues preventing women’s STEM education in Sri Lanka is the subject itself. Many educators view STEM courses and careers as masculine, citing that female STEM work is of a lower quality than male work. Many of the current teachers believe that female students lack the desire to learn about technology, citing this factor as the driving force for lower rates of female STEM students instead of family values or problems surrounding the teaching of materials. Most women are also unable to enter the STEM workforce because nearly 40 percent lack the educational qualifications needed to succeed in these career fields.

The Conference

The #DigiGirlz conference featured Andrea Della Mattea, President for Asia Pacific at Microsoft, as one of the key speakers. Mattea held small group workshops throughout the day to help empower women to learn and participate in STEM fields around the country. Sook Hoon Cheah, General Manager for the Southeast Asia New Markets, Daiana Beitler, Philanthropies Director for Asia and other female leaders looking to improve girls’ motivations for coding, engineering and education joined her.

More women are beginning to enter post-secondary education with 9,506 males and 15,694 females enrolling in higher education in 2014. Sook Hoon Cheah noted that the enrollment numbers are not an accurate depiction of progress for female STEM education in Sri Lanka, although they are promising to female progress. Cheah mentioned during Microsoft’s panel discussion that more women are entering into liberal arts and social majors than STEM programs in universities. Therefore, Microsoft is finding new ways to draw women into higher-paying STEM careers. The female conference leaders also shared encouraging tips for problem-solving to the students, like breaking down problems into manageable steps to make issues more approachable.

After the panel’s discussion, the 500 students went on to solve group challenges using coding for the rest of the conference. The programs encouraged young women to solve real-world issues using technology and coding formats such as Python, JavaScript and Blocks. Overall, the conference goal was to encourage female curiosity and development into the STEM field through role model representation, hands-on experiences with technology and problem-solving strategies for real-world scenarios using coding and educational technology. Microsoft’s leaders are hopeful that the #MakeWhatsNext campaign and other events will help inspire women to branch into technology-based careers throughout Sri Lanka.

Microsoft’s vision for the #DigiGirlz conference was to include women from all over Sri Lanka, including less developed areas, and to inspire them to participate in STEM education and advancement. The company plans on continuing work in women’s empowerment through workshops and programs in Sri Lanka, and throughout South Asia. For more information on Microsoft’s mission to close the gender gap in STEM fields around the globe, visit its website.

– Kristen Bastin
Photo: Flickr