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Staff Reporter

Leading female scientists and mathematicians in the Free State have expressed concern at the low uptake for maths and science subjects by women, saying this could result in them lagging behind in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Central University of Technology information technology department head Professor Muthoni Masinde, who was one of the three keynote speakers at the Charlotte Maxeke Women-in-STEM Lecture, said she is disappointed women are not taking up STEM-related subjects yet there are many opportunities for them.

STEM stands for science, technology engineering and mathematics.

“If women are going to make an impact in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need to do the STEM subjects,” said Masinde.

She said STEM-linked degrees are under-enrolled mainly because there are very few learners with mathematics.

“This year our faculty did not get enough people to admit. And sooner or later, we will have classes with no engineers and we will have to start importing them . . . while our people are still jobless. We shouldn’t let this happen,” she added.

Masinde said a good mobile applications developer, for example, needs highly developed logical thinking which is best achieved when one is doing maths.

The award-winning lecturer said women should not be intimidated or frustrated when they find few or no females working in certain positions because it means those are opportunities open for them.

“When you go to a department or faculty and you find only one woman, it’s not a bad thing,” she said.

“It means there are so many opportunities available there. You should tell other women that there are vacancies there, let’s take them . . . but we need to work for them.”

University of the Free State South Campus principal Dr Marienkie Madiope said the lack of female role models in STEM was worsening the problem.

“There are absolutely no role models that can mentor young girls and women in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” said Madiope.

She said among the problems pulling down most women were: lack of self-confidence, women being perceived less competent, lack of family support, language barriers, institutional incapacity, insufficient resources and cultural challenges, among others.

“As educators we need to enforce the basic mathematical and scientific knowledge and skills by making sure that we re-teach concepts that misunderstood,” said Madiope.

“Teachers need to move away from pointing out flaws and rather let learners figure out and learn from their mistakes and identify their own strengths, weaknesses and areas for development,” she added.

Lieutenant Colonel Phetogo Molawa, the first black female military helicopter pilot in the South African Airforce, lamented the lack of female participation in STEM.

“I obtained my qualification as the first female helicopter pilot (in South Africa) over 14 years ago. However, to this day, there are only three other black females after me. So, where are we missing it . . .” said Molawa, who is based at the 87 Helicopter Flying School in Bloemfontein where she is an instructor.

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