Preparing Girls to become Digital savvy

Glued on her computer screen, Mariam Rajabu is anxiously waiting for one of the icons to open.

She’s is working on an assignment given to her by one of her tutors.

“I’ve always loved how computers operate since a child, and I’m even very eager to learn more programs and applications from it,” says the 17 year old. Tanzania of a noble programme, dubbed ‘Code it Like a Girl’.

The initiative that contributes to building a more digital, inclusive, sustainable future on the continent while tackling low representation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education through a structured educational programme that targets underprivileged girls.

It started in 2019 to address the misconception that “STEM is for boys” and help in closing the STEM gender gap.

This program is a space where more young women would realize a wide range of career opportunities – be it working for a tech company, building their own startup or becoming a developer.

Jointly implemented between Vodacom Tanzania and Tanzania Data Lab (dLab), the program features an extensive four-day- training for girls aged between 14 and 18, to help them engage with the technology industry and encourage them to consider technology as a career path in the future.

It aims to create a fun atmosphere that will get girls excited about career paths in STEM; and to help more women and girls feel inspired to get into coding and be more involved in the creation and development of tech.
According to Human Resources and Development Manager with the mobile operator Naiman Moshi, the programme seeks to create an appetite for STEM related lessons among girls.

He discloses that more than 150 female secondary school students in the region have been acquainted with coding and web hosting skills.

“The students are exposed to coding basics and careers paths that are related to current and future skills gaps while also building a talent pipeline that speaks to our current and future skills needs,” he explains.

As a mobile operator, Moshi says Vodacom decided to take up the initiative with a view of bridging a gap of digital literacy among female students.

It is for such reason, Vodacom Tanzania and dLab, recently hosted a four-day Bootcamp held at the Arusha Technical College (ATC). The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates suggest that only around 35 per cent of all students enrolled in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-related fields are female.

Closing the gender gap in science is also crucial for achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and meeting the promise of the 2030 Agenda to “leave no one behind”.

A study titled Do Internalized Feminine Norms Depress Girls’ STEM Attitudes and Participation explains that by the 8th grade only half as many girls are interested in STEM, which just happens to be around the same age girls begin to enter that period of “gender intensification” when they begin to suddenly find themselves trying to identify with gender roles.

According to the study this is the age when girls begin to disassociate being smart with being pretty and start believing that they cannot be both.

The project has also seen deaf students brought on board, which is also implemented by Tanzania Data Lab (dLab), has also seen deaf students brought on board, in the spirit of inclusivity.

“As a mobile operator, we have also sought the services of sign language interpreters to ensure that those with hearing difficulties also benefit from the program,” he adds.

Mariam Rajabu is one of the students with hearing impairment who’s equally excited for being part of the programme.

The 17-year-old, who aspires to become a Pilot, says, unlike at their school, the programme exposed them to hands on training on hosting websites and coding.

“We are taught on how to open websites and how we can use them in selling our products and that of our clients,” she says.

Echoing similar sentiments, Dorcas Prima, who is also a Form Four student at Ngarenaro Secondary School, expresses her excitement on participating on the Bootcamp, saying it will expand her knowledge horizon, as far STEM was concerned.

She optimistic that the through the project, the students learn coding skills and get to network with new friends and mentors.

The project coordinator from Tanzania Data Lab (dLab), Ms. Somoe Mkwachu, acknowledges the significance of the ‘Code it Like a Girl’ initiative.

However, she stresses the need for further scaling up such initiatives, emphasizing that digital literacy is now a cross-cutting issue with far-reaching implications.

“This is just a drop in the ocean, this needs to be scaled up as digital literacy is now a cross cutting issue,” she says.

Vodacom Tanzania’s ‘Code it Like a Girl’ initiative is not just teaching girls to code; it’s empowering them to shape the future of STEM, bridging gender gaps, and fostering inclusivity.

It serves as an inspiring example of how education and technology can pave the way for a brighter, more equitable future in the digital age.

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