In South Africa, Techno Girl opens doors in science and technology

The programme that introduces girls to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers

By Cleopatra Okumu and Sudeshan Reddy
Nomonde looks at a review of maintenance procedures on a screen in the control rooms at OR Tambo International Airport.
UNICEF South Africa/2016/Hearfield
11 October 2016

The International Day of the Girl is marked each year on 11 October to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world. 

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, 11 October 2016 – Fifteen-year-old Nomonde Malaza smiles as she walks through the corridors of Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport. Although she is not catching a flight or travelling to far-off places, being here today is a dream come true. Nomonde is at the airport for a mentorship programme with the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) – an opportunity she may never have had were it not for an initiative called Techno Girl.  

Lifting up young women

Nomonde is from the Tembisa township outside of Johannesburg, where she lives with her mother, Phumzile, an unemployed single parent, her grandmother and her siblings. The family is dependent on her grandmother’s pension and a child support grant to make ends meet.

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At Ingqayizivele High School, Nomonde is popular among her peers and also a diligent student who excels in her grade 10 classes. Because of her hard work and determination, Nomonde was selected by her school for the Techno Girl project, which offers girls from grades 9 to 11 an opportunity to take part in job shadowing, mentorship and skills development programmes in the public and private sectors.

The initiative is a collaboration between UNICEF, the Ministry in the Presidency: Women, the Department of Basic Education, the State Information Technology Agency and Uweso Consulting (the implementing partner). As a lead agency in girls’ education and empowerment, UNICEF also mobilizes resources for the project through the private sector, government and civil society.

Techno Girl aims specifically to promote girls’ participation and learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – fields in which boys consistently outperform girls in South Africa. Candidates are selected from the country’s under-resourced communities on the basis of their academic merit.

Nomonde’s favourite subjects are mathematics, English and physical science. She has a keen interest in problem-solving and is always curious about how the world works. “That is why I chose industrial engineering,” she explains.

Phumzile sees great promise in her daughter. She hopes she will continue to pursue her dream of becoming an industrial engineer, which is often perceived as a male-dominated career. “I have told Nomonde to do well in school and stick to Techno Girl as it can open many doors for her,” she says.

Opening new doors

According to the findings of 2014 Techno Girl evaluation report, almost all of the participating girls said that exposure through job shadowing was the most important opportunity offered by the programme.

Mr. Vuwani and Nomonde discuss pre-flight maintenance checks at the observation deck
UNICEF South Africa/2016/Hearfield
Mr. Vuwani and Nomonde discuss pre-flight maintenance checks at the observation deck of OR Tambo International Airport.

“[The job shadowing programme] provides girls with first hand insider information into what their career of interest involves,” says Mr. Wycliffe Otieno, Chief of Education at UNICEF South Africa. “It also provides girls with the opportunity to understand the benefits and challenges of positions in those careers – [and] it motivates girls to develop a personal action plan to study further to secure a job of interest.”

For girls like Nomonde who were born and raised in environments where employment opportunities are scarce, working for a company like ACSA is a distant dream. Her mentor, Mr. Vuwani, has seen remarkable growth in Nomonde’s confidence and knowledge, telling her: “I have seen you working on different problems and I think you are very capable.”

Like many beneficiaries of the programme, Nomonde attributes Techno Girl with motivating her to work even harder at school and to inspire her peers to stay focused on their studies. “Techno Girl has given me an opportunity to make an informed career choice and better my future,” she says.