Representatives of UN Women
Representatives of the African Union
Representatives of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
Senior Government Officials
Members of the Media
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my singular honour and a privilege to address you this morning. It is indeed an honour for me to address the very first African Girls Can Code Initiative to be held in South Africa.
South Africa is a cradle of humankind. Our people are here warm and welcoming.
On behalf of the South African Government, I welcome all our guests to this wonderful land that has produced many leaders but none so impactful like our former President Nelson Mandela.
South Africa is a much better place to live in now than it was before 1994. We embrace diversity. We speak multiple languages. We treat our visitors and tourists well.
In 1993, South Africa received a mere 3 million foreign visitors. By 2012, the number has reached over 13 million.
In today's South Africa, girls and boys stand a better chance to develop and prosper.
Since the birth of the new democracy in 1994, the country’s economy has shown resilience at some stage growing at an average rate of 4.5.percent.
In the recent years, this growth has stagnated. Yet, we remain a middle-income economy with a strong emerging market, an abundant supply of natural resources, well-developed banking services, legal, communications, and energy amongst others.
Our stock exchange that ranks among the ten largest in the world.
We also pride ourselves on having a stable democracy that promotes fundamental human rights, social justice and liberty.
Our Constitution is built on an acute awareness of the injustices of the past, and is widely regarded as the most progressive in the world.
In less than ten days, South Africa celebrates 25 years of democracy, peace and liberty. Our Constitution that was signed into law 1996, turns 23 years.
We owe this freedom to many compatriots around the world who stood with us in a struggle against apartheid.
Our brothers and sisters from the rest of the African continent gave us food, shelter and guns to fight the enemy during our years in exile.
Our common destiny as the African continent is forever intertwined.
We are not just neighbours, but a thread of common humanity binds us all.
This brings me to the events of today. The African Girls Can Code Initiative is a joint partnership project between the Commission of the African Union (AU), United Nations (Women) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
The Commission says that the initiative is in line with two central pillars of the AU Agenda 2063, “an enabling environment for Science Technology and Innovation (STI) development of the continent.”
This is as per the AU’s Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024) and of gender and or any other differences.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I don’t want you to be like the British people. A few years ago, they voted to leave the European Union (EU). Immediately after they voted to leave the EU, they went on to Google search, what is EU?
For us not to fall into the same trap, allow me to explain what the African Union is, and why they have given us such a wonderful programme for our girl children.
The African Union is a continental union consisting of 55 member states (Governments) located on the continent of Africa.
The AU was founded on 26 May 2001 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and launched on 9 July 2002 in Durban, South Africa. South Africa is a member of the AU.
The AU has a strategy to develop the whole continent, it’s called AU Agenda 2063.
The Commission of the African Union is the implementing arm of the AU.
The United Nations (Women) is an agency of the United Nations that focusses on women empowerment and emancipation.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is an ICT arm of the United Nations.
South Africa and over 190 countries are members of the United Nations which exists to promote peace, economic development and brotherhood, sisterhood throughout the world.
So all these wonderful bodies have brought this programme together to benefit our girl children.
The African Girls Can Code Initiative seeks to further the empowerment of women and girls throughout Africa through the achievement of two primary objectives:
- Bridging the technological divide by providing women and children with tangible programmes to increase their access to modern technology
- Empowerment through access of Education and Employment providing women and girls with pathway to contribute and participate in Africa’s Innovation, Industrialization and growth by mastering Information and Communications Technology (ICT).
A key constraint to sustainable job creation in South Africa is the structural mismatch between labour demand and supply. This is not just a South African phenomenon but a global one.
I will speak about South Africa so that you may see the importance of the training you’re getting here.
Under this mismatch the economic growth has favoured high-skilled workers, despite the fact that the majority of the employed and the unemployed have low level skills.
It is estimated that by 2020, as many as 80 per cent of all future jobs will require a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education.
The South African government has begun work on solving its shortfall, using programmes to reach out to the nations’ young, in both school and downtime, and encourage them into the sciences and engineering.
As South Africa we have already introducing coding as a subject in South African schools.
We have already trained 43,774 teachers in computer skills and will shortly begin training teachers for the new coding curricula from June to September 2019.
Coding as a subject will be piloted at 1,000 schools across five provinces starting in the 2020 school year.
Plans are also afoot to introduce a robotics curriculum from Grade R-9.
One of the largest universities on this continent, the University of South Africa (UNISA) has partnered with us by making available their 24 ICT Laboratories throughout the country for the training of 72,000 teachers in coding.
Our partners, include giants such as Google, Teen Geeks and other businesses are also supporting us in order to develop a coding platform that uses Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to customise teaching and learning.
The curricula will ensure that our schooling system produces learners with the foundations for future work, and equip them with skills for the changing world.
Globally, only 14 per cent of the STEM workforce consists of females, and only 7 per cent in South Africa.
With this in mind, efforts are being made by both the government and private sector firms to increase the profile of STEM fields among women.
This in turn will allow the workforce to access a wealth of untapped potential – and boost South Africa’s gender equality in the process.
The best coders have various skills and abilities, like problem-solving, logic, imagination, empathy (putting themselves in the user’s shoes), excellent communication skills, and multitasking amongst others.
Stereotypically, many of those traits are female attributes. It’s also necessary for programmers to collaborate, brainstorm, and compromise.
They regularly work with other people, contrary to the stereotype of a lone wolf sitting in a basement.
Some thinkers go even further and consider coding skills as a new form of literacy. Centuries ago, people who could read and write were in a position of power and controlled both the present and the future.
Now, when our world relies on technology, people with tech-related skills have more options to be successful and shape their future instead of being passive consumers of technology.
STEM Fields desperately need more girls and women, and the statistics prove it! They are half of all tech users and make 85% of shopping decisions.
At the same time, according to the research conducted by Accenture and Girls Who Code, the number of women in STEM has decreased since the 1990s. If we do not reverse this trend, the number of female computer scientists will fall from 24% to 22% by 2025.
We are again not alone.
In general, the numbers aren’t great: according to the desk research conducted by RightsTech Women, a Swiss NGO that aims to advance the human rights of women and girls in STEM, only 23% of STEM graduates in the United States are women.
In Western Europe, it is even worse: in Switzerland, only 11% of STEM graduates are women, 16% in France, and 7% in Belgium.
For various reasons, teenage girls, even those who like math in school, become discouraged from pursuing education and careers in technology. The point of this training is ignite fire inside each one of you. Don’t be discouraged.
Coding as a learning are is really empowering and gives girls an equal shot. It increases their odds of having well-paid STEM jobs.
Those jobs also have a potential to reduce the pay gap and boost the average woman’s pay significantly.
According to research conducted by the American Association of University Women, male and female programmers were earning the same salary one year after graduation.
As a country, we have made a substantial push towards digitisation and technology in South Africa’s education sector in recent years.
Fore-instance, South Africa has been rated as the country with the highest digital literacy in Africa, according to a report released by Siemens and Deloitte in 2017.
In his state of the nation address in February this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that over the next six years, government will provide every school child in South Africa with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device.
Ramaphosa said that the Department of Education would also expand the training of both educators and learners to ‘respond to emerging technologies’ including the internet of things, coding, robotics and artificial intelligence.
In conclusion, you’re are the pioneers of coding training as this high level of a programme supported by the multilateral institutions such the UN Women, and African Union. I wish you all the best.
I thank you.