The Astro Molo Mhlaba programme in Khayelitsha (Cape Town) targets the issues of inclusivity and diversity in South African science by engaging the most underrepresented group - black girls from underserved communities - at various stages of their education.
From primary school, to high school, to university, we aim to inspire and support them in pursuing a career in
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).
The school (molomhlaba.org) behind the project has a radical new approach to schooling in South Africa: with local, low-fee, independent schools in underserved communities, Molo Mhlaba provides the country’s most vulnerable group - black girls from these communities - with unprecedented access to quality STEM education and career orientation, going beyond standard educational targets to strive for excellence and innovation.
Girls from these communities find themselves at great risk of physical and sexual violence, bullying, teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, and gang culture at school. They constitute the majority of the 50% drop-out rate between Grade 6 and 9.
Molo Mhlaba believes that they have a right to a safe, enjoyable, and supportive environment in which to be inspired to pursue a STEM subject and work hard towards achieving their goals.
Molo Mhlaba was founded and is led by award-winning activists, which have a six-years track record of coordinating well-established social and educational projects in the community. All Molo Mhlaba projects can therefore rely on an incredibly solid foundation of programmes and community networks, and can guarantee that its design is the result of a direct understanding of the complex challenges the community faces.
"The successful construction in the Northern Cape of the MeerKAT telescope, the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope, and the development of the Square Kilometre Array, has enabled South Africa to develop capabilities in areas such as space observation, advanced engineering and supercomputing. These skills and capabilities are being used to build HERA, a radio telescope designed to detect, for the first time, the distinctive radio signal from the very first stars and galaxies that formed early in the life of the universe.
This is not merely about advancing human understanding of the origins of the universe – it is about responding to the challenges that face South Africans now and into the future."
President Cyril Ramaphosa
State of the Nation Address 2019
Exposure to astronomy easily captures the imagination of students (and adults!) of all ages, making it the ideal subject through which to encourage them to pursue STEM careers. Thanks to many South African projects (eg the Square Kilometer Array) astronomy is also a high-profile STEM sector in the country, and one that offers a large number of funding opportunities for higher degrees in Physics. These are vital to allow for our participants to have a realistic opportunity to fund their university studies.
Through its astronomy programme, the school aims to inspire the female scientists of the future, while enabling learners, parents, and educators to understand how a career in science is achievable. Molo Mhlaba in fact recognises that a major contributor to inequality in South Africa is an endemic approach to career orientation which adjusts aspirations to social circumstances, resulting in the exclusion of the most underserved groups from STEM fields.
The astronomy program, on the other hand, will provide information on how a career in STEM provides skills - both direct and transferable - which are highly sought-after in research and industry. Direct exposure to professional female astronomers, furthermore, will also allow learners and their parents to challenge gender stereotypes.
Astro Molo Mhlaba targets the issues of inclusivity and diversity in South African science by engaging its most underrepresented group - black girls from underserved communities - in astronomy programmes at various stages of their education. We uses astronomy as a tool to inspire girls and young women to be passionate about science and motivate them to pursue a career in STEM.
Through its regular and long-term structure, the Astro Molo Mhlaba provides girls with the continuous support required to achieve their scientific potential, which institutions in their communities seldom have the resources to provide.
Our programmes include:
An after-school programme providing astronomy-based activities to local primary school children on a weekly basis. Currently, four primary schools have confirmed the participation of their female students in the programme: Molo Mhlaba, Chumisa, Luleka, and Isiphiwo/Vuzamanzi. Through these activities, we aim to:
Transmit to children fundamental astronomy concepts;
Promote a positive association of astronomy with enjoyable and stimulating activities;
Develop the girls' confidence and comfort in approaching scientific subjects, and empower them to pursue their scientific curiosity with assurance;
A series of once-a-week astronomy lessons aimed at both grade 11/12 (G11/12) female students from local high schools and recently-matriculated young women from the community. The latter will also be trained to run the above-mentioned Astro Club as Astro Club Facilitators (ACFs). All participants are taught and mentored by professional female astronomers, and provided with advice and support on how to pursue a STEM degree.
G11/12 students are provided with once-a-week maths & science tutoring by a professional tutor, in order to ensure they meet the academic requirements needed to apply to university and for financial aid opportunities to fund their degrees;
ACFs, along with their teacher training, will receive a bursary for their work in the Astro Club, to ensure they can have a continuous source of income while learning about astronomy and considering a pursuit of a STEM degree.
Molo Mhlaba Astronomy is sponsored by