We meet the girls from Elsies River High who recently stole the debating show.

The STEM field is increasingly influencing the way society operates and driving the innovations needed to solve the world’s most pressing problems. However, interest and enrollment among girls is low, and this field is still overwhelmingly male-dominated. 

Global Citizen reports that only 13% of STEM graduates are females. But 17-year-old girls from a township high school in Cape Town are breaking boundaries and also helping Africans in STEM tell their own success stories. 

Through the application of technology, entrepreneurship, innovation and business opportunities created in the world of science, learners from Elsies River High have made their school a hot topic in the Astronomy and Space Science Debate competition. 

“Show me your friends and I will show you my future” … these are the words that encouraged the group of grade 11 girls that won the debate against Cape Science Academy. Jodi Meyer, Lisa Jacobs, Mubaaraka Wilson and Taytum Baugaard walked in pride after winning the debate. 

The event was organised by the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) under the debate topic: Is the colonisation of Mars a good idea? 

In the panel of judges was NASA’s Jim Adams, Dr Martin Snow from the SARchi Research Chair (SANSA) and Dr Sithabile Kolwa from the University of Johannesburg (UJ). 

It all started when a physics teacher received an email for the school to participate in The South African Agency for Science and Technology (SAASTA) debate competition. “The email from the physics teacher, Mr Gordons, immediately reminded me that my team, who had been with me since grade 9, needed to dust off their scrapbooks to write some cue cards,” said Cher Franks, head of The Debating Society at the school.

“To us, astronomy is not only about looking at the sky and saying I need Maths and Science to do that, but it is about admitting the need for business and psychological aspects for mission planning,” said Meyer.

Wilson said that her passion for astronomy stems from her business studies and the details of it have left her starstruck saying that if she would be given an opportunity to study a field that comprises a bit of both, she would jump on it. 

The girls further added that their application of research to the theme was daunting as they were demotivated that they were competing against a science school and the stigma of astronomy and science is only for males hit a nail for a second. But this initial fear faded and the girls felt more empowered and wanted to prove that they can do it … and they did it! 

“Having to oppose the colonisation of Mars was stressful but walking out as champions is still unbelievable,” the group said.

Teachers‘ tips on reaching success: 

– Be fearless 

– Activate your gift 

– Embrace your greatness 

– Take part in extra-mural activities 

– Attend science camps if possible

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