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South Africa’s Techno Girls

Schoolgirls in South Africa are getting a step up in the science, technology and engineering world, from industry experts.

The country has a shortage of skills in these areas, but until now it has not encouraged its girls to get into these traditionally male-dominated subjects.

And girls often do worse in these fields compared with boys, which lowers their earning power and closes doors to them career-wise.

The Techno Girl programme aims to turn that around. The scheme selects girls from underprivileged schools and works to develop their skills by getting industry leaders to mentor them.

Eighteen year-old Khanyisile Mokele has wanted to be a civil engineer since she heard stories as a girl about her uncle designing and building bridges. “I want to design my own bridge!” she stated emphatically. “Bridges bring the world closer.”

If she does well in her exams, this year Khanyisile will get a place to study civil engineering at the University of Technology in the city of Tshwane. The Techno Girl programme gave her in-depth work shadowing, and she has been to attend workshops held by successful businesswomen.

She is one of maths teacher Burhaan Parbhoo’s five young stars. After three years with the programme two of his students have gone to university, and another, Lulama Jajola, scored top marks.

“The common factors for successful learners are hard work, dedication and working smartly, as well as parental interest in the child’s education,” he said.

He says parents play a crucial role in helping their children reach their potential. But most parents work and don’t have time to help with homework. And the children with no parents have to fend for themselves.

“A school needs dedicated teachers and learners,” he explained. “Even though this is one of the poorest schools in Lenasia, we had the highest pass rate here in 2010 - 93 per cent.”

While that level of success can’t be put down to any single factor, the Techno Girl programme can definitely take some credit. Because it doesn’t only help the girls taking part, but its benefits also filter through to their classmates. “When these girls get exposed to work shadowing in the holidays, they share their experiences with the other children at school,” said Parbhoo. “This motivates everyone – which is very positive.”

The Techno Girl programme is a group project run by South Africa’s Department for Women, Children and people with Disabilities, the public and private sectors and United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef.

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