Science Fair Zimbabwe promotes women participation in STEM

Regina Pasipanodya & Mary Mundeya

ASK most primary school pupils how they prefer spending their free time and many are likely to say watching cartoons or playing with friends, but not for Danishta Patel (12) a grade 6 pupil at Westridge Primary School, one of Zimbabwe’s elite schools in Harare.

Danishta Patel

“I enjoy designing and coming up with ideas to address issues that are faced in my society,” said Patel in an interview with She Corresponds Africa recently.

Such love of designing and coming up with innovative ideas has paid off in a big way for the young girl.  She excelled at the prestigious 2023 Science Fair Exhibition – an innovation exposition platform for young people held in Harare recently.

Danishta was selected as one of the students who will exhibit their innovative ideas in Mexico in October.

Through her participation in the Science Fair, Danishta helped to change the narrative that girls cannot easily comprehend sciences.

Traditionally, women and girls have been confined to kitchen duties and their representation in the education system, especially in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) has been low compared to that of the boys.

The underrepresentation of women in STEM fields has been attributed to the stereotypical gender categories due to the patriarchal attitudes in the awarding of grants, fellowships, and hiring practices as well as social pressures to comply with domestic duties, and stress related to marriage and childbirth.

 According to UNICEF, globally, the representation of girls in STEM programs has been low as compared to boys with about 18% of girls choosing STEM majors compared to 35% of boys.

It is believed that women prefer to major in the life sciences and have been underrepresented in the fields of computer science, and mechanical and electrical engineering.

However, in Zimbabwe through the Science fair initiative which was established in 2014, more girls have been given opportunities to engage in STEM initiatives. Many girls have taken advantage of the initiative and are exhibiting their innovative ideas and winning awards.

Danishta excelled through her innovative hydro-electrical power station which seeks to address electricity challenges faced in Zimbabwe and other countries in the region.

“To address the electricity challenges that are being faced in Zimbabwe and other countries in the region, I have designed a hydroelectricity power station that can be installed at the Victoria Fall and can be used as backup to the Kariba electricity system,” she said.

“My understanding is that, the design of this system allows water to fall into the hydraulic turbine which converts the energy of flowing water into mechanical energy. Therefore, the hydroelectric generator will convert this mechanical energy into electricity.”

In an interview, the director of Science Fair, Knowledge Chikundi applauded young girls for working hard to change the narrative that women’s ideas and duties were confined to the kitchen.

“This year in our Science Fair, we had 120 finalists and 62 of them were girls which is about 51.7 percent of the participants altogether showing that more girls are coming on board as compared to boys,” Chikundi said.

“Since the establishment of the Science Fair, we have been seeing many girls doing research and winning awards. The first group of young scientists to participate in an international science fair in South Africa in August 2015 was an all-girls team and this year in October 2023, 10 students will be going to Mexico and five of them are girls.

“In 2016 and 2017 a young girl called Pelagia Majoni also developed a minor planet that she named after herself and she won a scholarship from the United States to pursue her dream in technology. The Science Fair initiative has been making students realise their limitless potential in solving grand problems in society.”

A Science Specialist teacher at Westridge Primary School, Elias Kapuya said in the past the African girls were relegated to the kitchen and tilling the land which means their other talents were not explored and remained hidden.

“Through our science club at school as well as national science fairs, a girl child is allowed to explore and realise her potential in inventiveness and innovation,” he said.

“For example, in this case, Patel took an existing idea of hydroelectricity and applied it to a specific situation in Victoria Falls. Her innovation has the potential to solve our current power shortages as a country and that is what we call innovation. This shows that girls can do more than kitchen duties.

“From our school, four girls and two boys participated in the Science Fair and this is a sign that the perspective on girls is changing. I appreciate Danishta’s innovative idea and as good as it is, she sailed through the competition and qualified to compete and be further trained in science at the International Science Fair in Mexico in October 2023.”

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