In a world increasingly shaped by disruptive technologies and automation, it is crucial that young women are equipped with the skills needed for the careers of the future. Recognizing this need, governments, businesses, and international organizations have come together to ensure that girls have the opportunity to participate fully in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
A shining example of this collaborative effort is the African Girls Can Code Initiative (AGCCI), which recently organized a transformative boot camp in Polokwane from June 24 to July 3. This event brought together learners from North West, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo, providing them with training in coding, robotics, and other essential skills.
The theme of the Youth Month initiative was “Re-imagining and Re-thinking STEM Education in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” STEM, an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, lies at the heart of the AGCCI’s mission.
In South Africa, the AGCCI is being implemented by the UN Women Multi-Country Office for Southern Africa in partnership with the Department of Basic Education and the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI). Additional support for the initiative comes from Siemens and the Belgian government.
The AGCCI specifically focuses on girls in order to address gender imbalances that persist in STEM fields. Women often find themselves confined to junior roles with limited responsibilities, minimal decision-making power, and few opportunities for leadership in STEM.
Despite notable progress in enhancing women’s participation in STEM-related subjects, gender disparity remains a concern at all educational levels. Shockingly, only 13% of STEM graduates in South Africa are female.
Speaking at the boot camp, Ms. Mmampei Chaba, Chief Director of Multilateral Cooperation and Africa at the DSI, emphasized the importance of young women acquiring new skills and empowering themselves for the jobs of the future. Chaba highlighted how the camp aligned with the goals of the new White Paper on Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) and the 2022-32 STI Decadal Plan. These long-term policies focus on fostering creativity, learning, and entrepreneurship as primary drivers of economic growth, job creation, and socio-economic reform.
“The Decadal Plan addresses the skills of the future and how young people can be employable in the future,” said Ms. Chaba. She further stressed the importance of girls choosing careers that will empower them for the challenges ahead.
The learners were encouraged to look beyond the current work environment, which is rapidly evolving due to the influence of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things. While automation and machine learning will undoubtedly become more prevalent, human expertise will remain crucial as engineers, designers, programmers, and decision-makers. Furthermore, human qualities like emotional intelligence, which AI and robots lack, will continue to be highly valued.
Ms. Mavhungu Lerule-Ramakhanya, the MEC for Education in Limpopo, reminded the learners that the world is highly competitive, and education curricula should be equally competitive. She emphasized the importance of education empowering young people to excel in coding, robotics, and technology, enabling them to represent their country and compete globally.
To bridge existing gaps, the government has introduced coding and robotics into the school curriculum to equip learners with essential digital and ICT skills. The curriculum also aims to nurture critical thinking, collaborative work, and problem-solving abilities.
Ms. Rita Nkuhlu, Siemens Executive Director for Sub-Saharan Africa, inspired the young women by highlighting the advantages of coding capabilities. She emphasized the profound impact of rapidly changing technology, pointing out that our environment already heavily relies on apps and cyber-business. As an engineering company, Siemens has developed its own industrial Internet of Things service solution called MindSphere. This innovative system collects, stores, and learns from complex operational data, leading to improved processes and accelerated decision-making.
Nkuhlu emphasized the importance of coding for cybersecurity to safeguard individuals’ intellectual property rights. While certain jobs may become obsolete, new opportunities will arise for individuals with the necessary skills.
Reflecting on the significance of Youth Month, Kgothatso Palagangwe, a Grade 11 learner from Madibogo High School in the North West, recognized the sacrifices made by the youth of 1976. Their struggles paved the way for her and other learners to pursue subjects like science and technology. Palagangwe expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to participate in the coding and robotics camp, considering herself privileged.
The AGCCI will continue its impactful work with a second boot camp scheduled to take place in the Eastern Cape from September 29 to October 10, 2023, during the school holidays.