Despite amazing amounts of evidence to the contrary, the negative stereotype still lingers that women just aren’t good at math. There’s countless examples that this stereotype is just, frankly, false. For example, most people know of Ada Lovelace, who wrote the first computer program, and now many Americans are forced to recognize the NASA mathematician, Katherine Johnson. However, it’s not just America that deals with this stereotype and is trying to beat it. South Africa is facing it, too.
Professor Nox Makunga has written an article as of late for the site allafrica.com about this very subject. She is a biotechnology expert and science communicator based at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.
In her article, she references the study that suggests that girls stop believing that they are brilliant as early as age six. Her article goes on to mention how there’s a lack of diversity in the media on this subject — when girls watch TV, they usually see boys and men in the roles of the intelligent people working in STEM fields, she says. It then goes on to describe the problem plaguing South Africa.
“In South Africa, where I live and work, the problem is worsened by the country’s apartheid history,” Says Makunga. “Today, black women are still struggling to access scientific careers at all.” She goes onto explain that people may start out in STEM fields, however, but then they fall pray to what she calls “leaky pipeline” syndrome. In other words, they fall out of STEM fields after beginning to pursue a degree in those fields.
As far as the issue of apartheid goes, Makunga says that though these issues (and their resolutions) aren’t unique to South Africa, the problem of apartheid is, and it is still showing off its ramifications in the present. Apartheid had kept black people out of universities for the most part, and this still has negative effects today.
How do you possibly fix an issue like this?
Makunga suggests that money needs to be involved in the process. There needs to be “funding for bursaries”, she says. However, she also says that money wouldn’t nearly be enough. There needs to be better science communication happening in the country, and there needs to be more visual aids for young women — they need to be able to see themselves in these roles in order to encourage them further. “Young people in Africa very rarely know any scientists. They don’t see scientists at work, learn about local scientists in school or, often, understand what it is that scientists do,” she says.
And it does look like that South Africa is taking steps in the right direction.
“In recent years, South Africa has unveiled a number of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes to encourage women to enroll for STEM subjects,” says the article. However, things need to go further than that. Makunga wants to see more STEM based content for girls, whether that be via fiction or non-fiction. She says that a great way to do this would be to distribute this content through the SA Broadcasting Corporation’s radio and TV channels, and that this is urgently needed if South Africa is looking to fix this issue at hand.
To read Professor Makunga’s full article, click here.