The number of young girls trained under information and communications technology group Vodacom’s #CodeLikeAGirl programme is expected to reach 4 000 by the end of the financial year.
Starting from a base of just 20 girls from schools around Tembisa equipped with coding skills under the programme during its launch year in 2017, the two-week programme will, by the end of the financial year, have trained about 4 000 school-going girls between 14 and 18 years of age over the past five years.
In 2018, 187 young girls were trained in coding, expanding to 1 110 by 2021, as Vodacom works to encourage more girls to explore careers that require coding skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and industries.
During the 2022 financial year, Vodacom plans to train 1 500 in coding in this financial year, with 700 currently in the first cohort of the year, which started on June 27. The second cohort will start in October.
Further, the programme expanded its reach beyond South Africa to Mozambique, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo and Lesotho.
By the end of the programme, each of the girls is able to develop their own websites and is required to present their work to the rest of their coding class.
They are also equipped with life skills, including presentation and communication skills.
“The world is becoming increasingly reliant on digital technology, which is why coding skills are so prized. With digital transformation, we are seeing a higher demand for jobs with STEM skills, such as coding,” said Vodacom South Africa human resources director Njabulo Mashigo, who further noted that STEM careers are the jobs of the future that help drive innovation, social wellbeing, inclusive growth and sustainable development in society.
“Most people are not aware that half of all computer programming positions are in industries such as finance, healthcare and manufacturing. Coding has become such a critical skill that it elevates a candidate’s chances not only of landing positions but also of commanding higher salaries,” she pointed out.
Median wages in STEM careers are more than double that of non-STEM occupations.
STEM careers are also expected to grow at more than double the rate of other occupations.
However, not enough women enter STEM careers, with graduates around the world overwhelmingly male.
“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 are opening their eyes to sequential thinking around problem-solving and stimulating creativity and design skills,” she said.
Citing a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation report titled 'Cracking the code: Girls’ and women’s education in STEM', she explained that only 35% of STEM students in higher education globally are women.
Young women also comprise only 3% of students in engineering or information and communication technology.
“Vodacom wants to address the underrepresentation of women and girls in STEM education and careers, and we’ve seen the immense difference #CodeLikeAGirl makes to these girls, which is why we are building on the programme each year.
“We believe that planting a seed now, we are preparing our industry for a technology-ready future.”
Mashigo pointed out that girls need encouragement because traditionally, they are not thought of as innovators
“With the right skills and a confidence boost, girls will feel empowered to aim for the skies – whether that is literally as pilots or astronauts, or as software developers, engineers, statisticians or architects,” she concluded.