By Phemelo Segoe, Education Specialist at Tuta-Me

In South Africa, only 13% of graduates leaving tertiary institutions with qualifications in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are women.

Despite the massive strides made in increasing the representation of women in higher education, they are still under-represented in these future-critical disciplines – disciplines in which South Africa is already experiencing a skills shortage.

This disparity points to opportunity. In many ways, women are the answer to this shortage, which must be addressed if we are to stay relevant as we live through the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We need to be armed with a diverse range of people equipped in STEM-related skills if our economy is to thrive. The contribution of women is essential, and every effort needs to be made to ensure that their role and contribution is encouraged, rather than neglected.

Phemelo Segoe

Phemelo Segoe: Education Specialist. Tuta-Me

We caught up with Phemelo Segoe, an education specialist at Tuta-Me, a brand that provides impactful online tutoring for academic success, at both school and university. Tuta-Me is a key offering of Optimi Workplace, one of South Africa’s leading education and training providers.

What can we do to ensure that more women in South Africa study STEM at tertiary level?
I think that girls need to be exposed at a young age to the different careers available to them within STEM. To this day, career opportunities tend to be gendered: boys become doctors and girls become nurses. Young girls need to know what’s available to them, and should be guided on pursuing the subjects necessary to work in these fields from primary school onwards.

Why is it important that girls be encouraged to pursue STEM?
In the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, STEM industries run the world. If these sectors are to develop solutions that cater to a wide variety of people, they need to be similarly inclusive and diverse. Girls need to know that the worlds of engineering, coding, software development and biological research are theirs too, and STEM subjects are the gateway.

What are the barriers holding girls back from fully engaging and progressing in STEM?
While girls are just as capable as boys of excelling in STEM, gender inequality affects performance. I think gender stereotypes, environmental circumstances, levels of support and social beliefs determine how likely girls are to perform well and retain their interest in STEM.

What has your experience taught you about what helps girls excel at STEM?
Equal learning opportunities, such as ProMaths Online, make a huge difference to helping girls succeed. Girls and boys have to be afforded the same opportunity, access and support. If these processes are in place, we see girls performing just as well as their male counterparts.

How can girls be encouraged by parents, teachers and peers when it comes to STEM?
Support. Support. Support. Maths and science require time, so affording girls the opportunity to study after school instead of being socially obliged to complete chores is important. Parents and teachers should also encourage girls to receive tutoring before opting to replace maths with maths literacy.

How can girls prepare themselves for careers in STEM?
Young girls need to know that the world needs them. We need their unique perspectives and insight. The sooner that girls become comfortable and confident taking up space in STEM classrooms, the better. That’s when they’ll learn to use their voice and trust that they have something to offer. Of course, the support of their teachers, parents and fellow learners (especially boys) is an important part of this transition.

Since the pandemic, how has Tuta-Me adapted to help learners?
Tuta-Me has expanded from an online learning platform offering academic resources, content and tutoring, to include online classrooms. We call this the Mobi-Tuta Campus, an all-inclusive online learning and teaching platform that bridges the divide the pandemic created. It allows teachers to stay in touch with their learners and resume learning safely and conveniently. It is particularly valuable for learners studying complex STEM subjects.

What excites you most about the work that Optimi Workplace is doing in STEM?
There’s real impact. At the end of the year when we do feedback sessions with our learners, I get to see the real difference our services have made, like seeing a learner who was struggling with a subject not only pass, but excel.

What message do you have for girls and women wanting to pursue a career in STEM?
Pursue your dreams. Don’t turn away from anything because you haven’t seen a woman do it before you. Believe that you can break the ceiling yourself. 

Tuta-Me provides impactful online tutoring for academic success, at both school and university. Tuta-Me forms part of Optimi Workplace, South Africa’s leading provider of workforce and community training for over 25 years.

Submitted by Fox Street Communications