DURBAN – Vodacom KwaZulu Natal Region, in partnership with KwaZulu Natal Department of Education and Durban University of Technology (DUT), are launching an exciting programme that will see over 300 young girls between the ages of 14 and 18 from previously disadvantaged schools receive coding and robotics training. Vodacom’s #CodeLikeAGirl programme aims to encourage more girls to explore careers that require coding skills to help them get a start in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields.
Female participation is lagging in a field that is expanding globally and men continue to dominate the number of STEM graduates in most countries. These were some of the concerns expressed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recently. According to the UNESCO report “Cracking the code: Girls’ and women’s education in STEM”, only 35% of STEM students in higher education globally are women. For example, only 3% of female students in higher education choose information and communication technologies (ICT) studies.
Chris Lazarus, Managing Executive for Vodacom KwaZulu Natal region, said: “The gender disparity between men and women in STEM careers is alarming the world over, especially in emerging economies like South Africa. Research shows that STEM careers are the jobs of the future, driving innovation, social wellbeing, inclusive growth and sustainable development. We believe that there needs to be a concerted effort both from government, private sector and academia to encourage young girls still in school to take up STEM subjects and this way close the gap in the field. And that is exactly what we aim to achieve through our #CodeLikeAGirl project, we want a future without a gender gap to ensure diversity and drive innovation in the country.”
Coding is a way of solving problems, sequential thinking and stimulating, creating and designing. The ‘Code like a Girl’ programme aims to develop coding skills and valuable life skills for girls aged between 14-18 years, and encourages them to consider the uptake of ICT and STEM subjects. It provides influential mentors for the girls to inspire them to be passionate about technology and its possibilities. The programme was implemented in South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, DRC and Lesotho with over 1000 young girls trained in 2019.
The 300 young girls from the province will have the opportunity to learn how to code during the 2020 Summer School holidays, from 7 – 11 December 2020. This investment by Vodacom in digital skills training programmes for young women will help to narrow the gender digital divide at an early age in South Africa.
Kwazi Mshengu, MEC for Education in KwaZulu Natal said: “If we are to level the playing field and deal decisively with patriarchy and gender gap, we need to institutionalise programmes like #Code Like A Girl. As a Department of Education in KwaZulu Natal we appreciate the invaluable partnership with Vodacom and DUT and we are persuaded that this programme is going to go a long way to advance the interest of our girl learners and bridge the gender divide in our society.”
Professor Sibusiso Moyo, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Engagement at DUT said: “It gives us great pleasure to be part of this historical launch of #CodeLikeAGirl programme in partnership with Vodacom and the Department of Education. Girls and or Women make up approximately 50% of the South African population, and leaving this part of the population in the digitalisation and artificial intelligence advances would have a negative impact on our economy. These young minds will become the next generation of our innovators, mathematicians, engineers, computer scientists and leaders. Thank you to all our staff and partners who have helped to make this launch a reality.”
“Projects, such as Vodacom’s #Code like a Girl, have the potential to significantly close the gender gap and inspire young girls to pursue STEM careers in the digital era towards which we are transitioning. I believe that we can ultimately change the outlook of the number of females in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics careers, enabling those women to become pioneers within the technology space,” concluded Lazarus.