This weekend, I had the privilege of watching the record-breaking Blockbuster, Black Panther. The newest of the Marvel Comic has broken records worldwide for two weeks in a row.
So much conversation around race, budget and gender has sparked, challenging Hollywood to improve it’s systems of inclusion.
As powerful as ‘Black Panther’ was for adults, the potential impact it can have on boys and girls of color who watch it is insurmountable. Though there are many amazing characters in the movie, and one sticks out for me as a shining example of #Womandla, and that is Shuri – the Tech Princess of Wakanda.
Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, is the playful and smart younger sister of T’Challa the King of Wakanda.
When we look at the witty and sharp Shuri, we can only ask ourselves how many more Shuris exist who have untapped potential that can be used in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields where women of color are underrepresented. Shuri plays a pivotal role in saving Wakanda, which I believe qualifies her to be the next Black Panther. Who knows?
I encourage you all to go watch the movie. I don’t want to give too much away. It will really blow your mind and get you thinking!
Black Panther has revealed a whole world beyond what superhero movies had ever dared to dream of.
Sihle Nontshokweni recently met with the Molo Mhlaba team to learn more about the vision of their upcoming school.
By Sihle Isipho Nontshokweni
Molo Mhlaba is a network of Pan-African iSTEAM (Innovation, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) primary schools for girls who aim to educate girls from pre-primary up to primary school level.
This project offers an alternative pathway for primary education in South Africa. Commonly, to attain high-quality education children from low-income communities have had to shun black and colored schools adjacent to their homes, refusing to be trapped by geography. On the daily, they are transported past railways and bridges, tearing down soft zonings and apartheid spatial engineering to access the likes of “Model C” schools.
Starting from 2018 they will receive their first intake of 60 learners. The energy and passion this team carries for their work is palpable and contagious. This is demonstrated in the words shared by Rethabile Mashale, Director of Molo Mhlaba:
“Once you see the complex challenges these children face, and upon witnessing the impact that your work can make- you can’t help but think, keep working- keep working- you’ll sleep when you’re dead” says Mashale.
The Molo Mhlaba schools are changing this narrative; that to access good education, you ought not to move further away from home. Their first school will be launched in Khayelistha, a township area in Cape Town. Their broader vision is to launch high quality schools across South Africa in low-income communities.
Till now, there have been no iSTEAM schools targeted at grooming girls in low income communities. This alternative promises to cultivate the potentials of girl learners whilst nurturing and affirming their African identity and womanhood. Through a pan African perspective, these schools seek to groom the next generation of young woman leaders, without exposing them to the aggressive assimilationist script that has characterized most Model C schools.
Our contributor, SihleNontshokweni, hails from the Eastern Cape. Her primary research is on education change, with a focus on social cohesion is formerly White only schools. She identifies as a writer and storyteller. Her short stories and thought-provoking pieces on social dichotomies can be found on sihlesapplecrunch.com
Melissa is an avid scientist, innovator and educator. Her passion lies in developing human-machine interfaces particularly for medical care and educational uses. She also enjoys teaching and mentoring students in research and in materials engineering.
Seven years ago, as a high school student, she embarked on her very first research project, mentored by her biology teacher. Leading up to now, she has co-authored two publications, patented an invention, shared her research in international conferences, and traveled across the globe to learn and conduct research in a top research lab.
“Research is not for the faint-hearted. Being at the very edge of the discovery of new knowledge or the creation of a new technology means that failure is bound to happen. It is important to develop the resilience to try and try again despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges, because eventually, you will be the first human being to understand a new phenomenon or the first to develop a device that has the potential to help millions. That’s what keeps me going.” says Tan.
However, she describes the challenge that women scientists face even greater challenges than her male colleagues. She’s heard teachers commenting that it was not feminine for a girl to be involved in serious research in the physical sciences. “There was even fellow scholar who commented that it was more difficult for women to achieve tenured faculty positions in academia because the tenure grace period coincides with our reproductive window.”
She says she has met scientists, both men and women, who allayed her doubts about going into research and these are the mentors and role models who have guided her through this path over the years.
Her advice to aspirant scientists and engineers: “It is crucial for young girls in STEM to identify role models and mentors whom they can rely on to guide them during difficult times and to give career advice.”
She hopes that more senior female scientists will share their stories of how they’ve overcome gender equality challenges so that others know that they are not alone in the struggle, and so that their younger counterparts have role models to look up to.
It’s been said that the more diverse a team is (in terms of gender, race, culture, educational background, etc), the more innovative it(team) will be. The next time you see a young girl tinkering away with a machine or playing with a chemistry set – encourage her.