Setsoto Hlohlomi is the National University of Lesotho (NUL) educated mind behind the non-governmental organisation called BasaliTech. It is the organisation that seeks to empower women, young girls and children through technology and to improve Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education for all children, male or female.
[Catch them here: www.basalitech.org]
“Women, girls and children are targeted by this organisation,” Setsoto said. “The idea is to introduce them to as many aspects of STEM as possible.”
The question frequently asked is, why girls? The reason is to help our sisters, aunts, nieces and cousins who grew up knowing science and technology as a male field to break the stereotype.
Women empowerment through technology is one of UN sustainable development goals and this battle is for both males and females as it affects society, so do not consider this as discrimination.
For instance, their “Tech Kidz Sessions” introduces all children to electronics and basic robotics and they also hold “Girl Code Camps” to teach girls to develop websites and in the last Girls Camp they had partnered with the Vodacom Lesotho Foundation.
The idea is to encourage Women and Girls not only to like STEM but to also stay in STEM. “So we encourage them to join technology and we mentor them to stay in technology.”
According to Setsoto, she was inspired to take this action after realising that Basotho women in general did not enrol in STEM subjects despite Lesotho doing great in terms of educating its female population.
As a former student of Engineering in Computer Systems and Networks at the NUL, she was the only girl graduate among six boys. Her friend who was in Bachelor of Engineering in Electronics was the only one in eight. The situation repeats itself at the career level in STEM related professions.
“As we did our research, we found that the main reason women didn’t enrol in STEM was not because they were less able in those subjects.”
One of the reasons is that when women take a look at STEM subjects, they often find women hugely under-represented and they wonder why. That gets them scared of STEM.
“Why, on earth, are women avoiding these subjects to start with?” they obviously interrogate themselves. The end result is a situation where women are not in STEM for the simple reason that, well, they are not in STEM.
It is a cycle that must be broken.
So Setsoto is already doing just that, breaking it. Look at a choice they offer women, girls and children often at no cost.
Number 1, they have a Mentoring Program. This program seeks to assist women and girls in STEM, or those wishing to be there. It helps them to reach their career goals and to help make right informed decisions in their careers.
“This we achieve by hosting helpful events, provision of information and networking with established professional women in similar fields,” Setsoto said.
The networking with professionals is quite interesting.
In this case, women professionals who want to mentor and girls who want to be mentored(students) apply online (check www.basalitech.org/mentoring.html). Then the mentors and the mentees are paired, often on one-on-one basis.
However, if they can, professionals can take up to three mentees at a time. Pairing is based mostly on shared academic and professional interests.
There are clear guidelines on how the mentorship should go. The networked can meet in person, on whatsapp (or other social media platforms). So location of the mentors and mentees is not a problem. “We check on the networked groups on monthly basis to judge their progress,” Setsoto revealed.
Number 2, Girls Tech Bootcamps are short trainings that introduce girls to science, electronics and programming and recently hosted a Girls in ICT Code camp to teach girls how to develop websites and make gadgets that introduce them to electronics engineering.
Number 3, Tech Kids Sessions are some of the events they regularly host where kids (boys and girls) learn the basics of electronics, robotics, programming and other areas of interest related to STEM. The idea is to interest kids in STEM from a young age.
Number 4, Labs for You is a much more ambitious project. “In this one,” Setsoto said, “we have realised that a lot of high schools have no practical science labs and thus students have no interest in STEM due to lack of hands-on experience in their schools. But in STEM, it is easier to understand what you see.”
Seeing is believing.
So BasaliTech has opened applications for a Mobile Physics Lab for which anyone can nominate a High School to which they can take the lab and demonstrate physics experiments there for free.
“We are already preparing to mobilize resources for Biology and Chemistry labs,” Setsoto wrapped up.