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Coding course bridges gender disparity in Stem careers

Vodacom to train 4,000 pupils by this year

From left to right: Saabrerah Salie (19), Chimwemwe Mwansa (18), Zainaaz Hansa (18) and Shreya Rupan (19), all alumni who shared their journey with Vodacom.
From left to right: Saabrerah Salie (19), Chimwemwe Mwansa (18), Zainaaz Hansa (18) and Shreya Rupan (19), all alumni who shared their journey with Vodacom.
Image: Supplied

Five years ago, #CodeLikeAGirl was launched to equip young girls with skills and bridge the gender disparity in technology in SA.

Sponsored by Vodacom, the initiative encourages young girls to explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (Stem) careers.

The programme was launched in 2017 in Tembisa, on the East Rand, with only 20 girls. Today, Vodacom seeks to train 1,500 young girls in coding this financial year, bringing the total number of girls trained to 4,000.

This year, Vodacom celebrates five years of this programme, which has expanded to Mozambique, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo and Lesotho.  

Speaking at the five-year celebration event recently, human resources director for Vodacom SA, Njabulo Mashigo, said: “The gender disparity in Stem is alarming, especially since these are the jobs of the future. By teaching high school girls how to code, we’re opening their eyes to sequential thinking around problem-solving and stimulating creativity and design skills.”

Coding is the process of transforming ideas, solutions and instructions into the language that the computer can understand. Coding is how humans talk to computers to get the output they want.

Some alumni shared how #CodeLikeAGirl has positively influenced them and boosted their confidence.

Saabrerah Salie, 19, coded an epilepsy detector. Chimwemwe Mwansa, 18, Shreya Rupan, 19, and Zainaaz Hansa, 18, have each coded their own websites.

Hansa programmed past papers for all grades and all subjects. “I created an app for the same thing,” said Hansa.

The young women believe these coding programmes are important for the job market, especially as society moves towards the Fifth Industrial Revolution in which automation will continue at an accelerated pace.

Hansa said that the programme was important because it empowered young girls and made them financially independent, meaning they could live as they choose and leave abusive relationships.

All of them agreed that women can play any role in the IT and engineering spaces and that anything a man could do; they could do, too.

"Gender norms, culture and stereotypes are still shaping girls’ choices about their studies and their eventual careers, which is why so few consider Stem and ICT careers. We need to create more opportunities for girls and young women to build confidence in Stem, by empowering them through education and coding skills, so they can become the engineers and innovators of the future.

Our vision is to address the underrepresentation of women and girls in Stem education and careers. Through this initiative, we are looking to improve on these numbers, and empower even more women to explore Stem careers," said Mashigo.

The #CodeLikeAGirl programme takes place during the school holidays for two weeks. During the training course, learners are exposed in basic knowledge of computer languages, robotics and development programmes including HTML, CSS, GitHub and Version control, Bootstrap, JavaScript and Basic Computer and Introduction to Coding.

They will also be taken on a fun and empowering life skills journey while developing coding, presentation and communication skills – providing learners with well-rounded development. At the end of the training, each girl will know how to develop her own website and present her work to the rest of the coding class.

This article first appeared in GCIS's Vuk'uzenzele

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