There is a need for young people, especially women, to follow a career path in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industries.
This emerged during a dialogue hosted by Government Communications (GCIS) jointly with the Department of Science and Innovation on Wednesday.
The webinar was hosted to celebrate the contribution of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industries.
The event was hosted as part of the Youth Month campaign aimed at inspiring, engaging, and encouraging young women to consider a career in STEM related fields.
According to the UNESCO report titled: “Cracking the code: Girls’ and women’s education in STEM,” only 35% of STEM students in higher education globally are women.
One of the participants, Dr Thulile Khanyile, Scientist, Social Entrepreneur and co-founder of Nka’Thuto EduPropeller, expressed concern on the number of women involved in STEM.
She said the use of technology is on the increase.
“We use science, technology engineering and mathematical products on a daily basis, so we cannot exclude the general public from participating in STEM.
“We need to have women in stem talking about the subject matters and the solutions that they are bringing. We need to increase the participation of women to ensure that we have diverse teams, so that these diverse teams can come up with more diverse and more inclusive solutions,” she said.
Dr Mamoeletsi Mosia, Managing Director of the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) at the National Research Foundation (NRF), said they are tasked with communicating science, engineering, technology and innovation to the broader society.
Mosia said technology and innovation in general is needed and that it is something that must be passed on to society.
“I feel that if we start at the student level, we’ve already missed the boat, the boat actually starts at the parents. They need to understand what it is that if a child says ‘I want a career in biochemistry’ what it is that I will be doing.
“We need to talk to the parents, we need to talk to society and that’s where we start educating society in general. We [are] making science interesting for learners. We have science labs in schools,” she said.
Young people involved in STEM
Scientist and PhD candidate at the University of Washington, Zakithi Mkhize, is pursuing her PhD in biology.
“Not a lot of people have the opportunity to study further; I’ve been funded by NRF throughout my postgraduate studies and my masters.
“I’ve been with an organisation that is really passionate about transformation and having a young black woman in the forefront,” she said.
Mkhize said she regarded herself as a STEM activist.
Inam Kula, Architectural Engineer at the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, said her architectural journey has been a difficult one.
“It hasn’t been easy so most of my degrees I studied for at UCT [University of Cape Town], so I have my Bachelor’s, Honours and my Masters. She also completed a post graduate diploma in planning at the University of the Witwatersrand.
“So I think there are many hindrances that prevent people from becoming architects and I think one of them is the portfolio. To get into architecture school, you have to have a portfolio that you apply with, and this is quite a stringent portfolio which has quite a lot of requirements.
“I think there’s [also] the issue of finances, architecture is really an expensive course and it requires a lot of resources,” Kula said.
Despite the tremendous progress towards increasing women participation in science-related fields, a significant gender gap has persisted throughout the years at all levels of STEM disciplines all over the world. In South Africa, only 13% of graduates in STEM fields are women.
The webinar was aimed at creating a platform to discuss gender disparities between men and women in STEM fields, celebrate milestones achieved by women in male dominated industries and encouraging young women to venture into STEM careers.