The lack of female role models has been cited as one of the major contributing factors to having few learners in schools develop an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs.
The remarks were made by Education Officer, Lavinia Moyo, who was standing in for Bulawayo Provincial Education Director Bernard Mazambani at the International Women’s Day symposium, Wednesday.
The event was hosted by the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) and was celebrated under the theme “DigitALL – Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality.”
The event aimed to celebrate women’s entrepreneurial achievements and increase their visibility through innovative strategies that empower and build sustainable future female leaders.
The education official called for the creation of informal STEM experiences and after-school activities that can be used to motivate learners to partake in STEM programs.
“Create Informal STEM Learning Experience, After School Activities and Summer Camps. There can also be parent involvement includes exposing their children and adolescents to enrichment activities outside school, which open up opportunities to explore science and technology through doing coding clubs, science art summer camps by emphasizing creativity and hands on activities with grades off the table. These activities would allow girls to explore science and technology as hobbies linked to academics,” Moyo said.
She highlighted various barriers that hinder girls and adolescents from participating in STEM activities.
“There are issues of masculinity stereotypes. Parents, communities and influential people of good standing and reputation often associate STEM with boys and men. Gender gaps in science and math performances have been closing, but gaps in STEM self-concept and aspirations remain large. Even when girls and women perform as well as their male peers on STEM tests or better, many lose interest and do not pursue advanced courses majors and careers in STEM, peer norms also play a role and loss of focus,” she said.
“There is fear, lack of confidence and scepticism by girls towards STEM careers which are vastly outnumbered by male peers. Lack of female role models that have made it up who cheer on and speak positively to spur the females and who are grateful to the few that have arisen to give. At the employment stage, there is gender bias in hiring and promoting biased evaluation of scientific work, family responsibilities and difficulty returning after a family-related pause. All these undermine the relation of women in STEM.”
Sibo The Engineer, a guest at the event, reiterated on the importance of having more women taking up STEM activities to increase the number of role models.
“A young girl once told me that she would rather be a doctor than an engineer because there are less women in that sector and she wouldn’t want to be alone. That challenged me to do more in raising awareness on availing platforms that would allow young girls to learn more about STEM at a young age,” she said.
Another guest, Greenhut co-founder, Cindirella Ndlovu, noted that there are a lot of opportunities awaiting young girls in the science world, hence female learners should grab available opportunities.
Various female entrepreneurs from Bulawayo who were present at the event shared their journeys on how they started their businesses, the challenges they faced and how they are managing to sustain them.
They spoke of the need to develop business ideas and to acquire financial literacy skills in order to be able to sustain their businesses.