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Girls go Techno

UNICEF South Africa/2011/Marinovich
© UNICEF South Africa/2011/Marinovich
Two of the Techno Girls, Khanyisile Mokele (left) and Petunia Matodzi (right), with their peers who are also matriculating this year.

14 July 2011 - South Africa has a shortage of skills in science, technology and engineering. So, you may be surprised to learn that generally, the country’s girls have not been encouraged to pursue traditionally male-dominated subjects, such as maths, science and technology; and often perform poorly in these fields when compared with boys. This contributes to reducing the career opportunities – and earning potential – that girls would otherwise enjoy. But a dynamic programme – Techno Girls – is set to turn this around…

Through the Techno Girls programme, young females are identified in underprivileged schools and are then placed in corporate mentorship and skills development initiatives. This career mentorship helps them gain confidence and links their school lessons to the skills they’ll need to succeed in the ‘real’ working world.

Bridging the gap

As a child, what impressed Khanyisile Mokele the most was hearing that her uncle had designed and built a bridge over a highway. It also set the stage for her ambitions: today, this petite 18-year-old wants to be a civil engineer. ‘I want to design my own bridge!’ she states emphatically, “Bridges bring the world closer.”

An only child, Khanyisile has been fortunate to grow up in a family that sees education as the recipe for success. With her parents’ support and encouragement, she has always been motivated to achieve good results. Maths and physics are no challenge for Khanyisile. While she may have a natural bent towards these subjects, she also works hard at them, taking afternoon and Saturday classes to ensure she succeeds.

Khanyisile has applied to study civil engineering at the University of Technology in Tshwane, and has been accepted pending her final results this year. What has perhaps been the final step in her preparation for success was her selection – and enthusiastic participation – in the Techno Girls programme. It has exposed her to in-depth work shadowing, and she has been able to attend workshops held by successful businesswomen about important yet neglected aspects of success in the workplace.

UNICEF South Africa/2011/Marinovich
© UNICEF South Africa/2011/Marinovich
Techno girl Kanysile Mokele in her bedroom in Soweto.

Preparing learners for success

Lenasia’s M.H Joosub School teacher, Burhaan Parbhoo has taught maths to Techno Girl Khanyisile for three years. She is only one of his young stars: five girls from the school were selected for the Techno Girls programme. And the fact that two have already gone on to university, and another, Lulama Jajola, scored top marks at M.H Joosub School last year, is testament to both the success of the programme and the dedication of teachers like Parbhoo.

“The common factors for successful learners are hard work, dedication and working smartly, as well as parental interest in the child’s education,” he adds. Teachers too need extra training on some topics – and difficulty with reading and spelling frustrates some learners’ ability to study further.

Efforts are made to overcome some of these problems – and many teachers do voluntarily embark on further training. Parbhoo emphasises the role of parents in helping children to reach their potential. But in many homes parents work and have little time to help with homework; and then there are the children with no parents, who have to fend for themselves.

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

While no single initiative can claim all the credit for those excellent results, the Techno Girls programme can certainly lay claim to some of the school’s success. After all, it’s not only the participating girls who benefit from the opportunities. “When these girls get exposed to workshadowing in the holidays, they share their experiences with the other children at school. This motivates everyone – which is very positive,” adds Parbhoo.

The aim, by 2013, is to have placed 8 000 disadvantaged girls in structured job-shadowing programmes, so they can make informed choices about their future prospects. The Techno Girls programme is a partnership between UNICEF, the Department of Education and the private sector.

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