Fighting stereotypes: Black South African girls conquer science sector

24.11.2017 - Press release

All over the word, finding black women working within the science sector still remains rare. The Goethe-Institut Johannesburg wants to change this with their science intitiative for black South African girls.

Women make up only 30 percent of science researchers worldwide and that figure is even lower when it comes to black women pursuing a career in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) sector.

I Am Science encourages black girls to get involved in science
I Am Science encourages black girls to get involved in science© Goethe-Institut Johannesburg

Unequal access to education and gender stereotypes still prevent girls from being curious about science. For many black girls in South Africa the world of science remains an impenetrable space.

In line with movements such as #BlackGirlMagic, the I Am Science initiative aims to work against race and gender biases that young girls and women face daily.

Aimed at early high school girls, the project combines exciting science activities, video and digital learning in a two-week programme which is rolled out at different schools.

By creating entertaining and accessible science videos, presented by girls, the project hopes to increase curiosity in science and shift perceptions about girls in science. As American activist Marian Wright Edelman said, “You can't be what you can't see”.

For the past two months, I Am Science has implemented programmes at three Gauteng schools.

Black girls explaining science
Black girls explaining science© Goethe-Institut Johannesburg

Short, professional videos of girls from Soweto, Tembisa and Alex doing exciting, hands-on science activities have been uploaded to YouTube as well as turned into video quizzes and published on local learning app Levelup.

The app allows teen users to earn digital tokens for submitting correct answers, which are redeemable for airtime and data.

This is the first project in South Africa to co-create peer-to-peer, educational, science video content with girls.

It is implemented by the Goethe-Institut with support from the German development agency GIZ and financial support from the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

When asked what she thought about science after completing the programme, grade 10 Fons Luminus Secondary School pupil, Tsakane Nxumalo said: “Science is everywhere!”

“Science is for everyone and anyone can become a scientist. The project encourages us girls to love and want to know everything about science.

School girls from Johannesburg participating in I Am Science
School girls from Johannesburg participating in I Am Science© Goethe-Institut Johannesburg

We find that [mostly] white men are scientists but it showed us that us as young black girls could become one [too].”

Thabisa Dobe from Sandtonview Secondary School said: “I love that we actually do the experiments instead of just reading about them. I like that they are promoting female scientists.”

Not only do girls get to star in a professional video in which they demonstrate science activities but the programme also allows for time to demonstrate these to their classmates and teachers, thereby flipping traditional teaching-learning roles.

Through the creation and dissemination of free and unique science learning content, the project will continue in 2018 to contribute towards the ultimate goal of propelling more girls towards science-related careers.

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