Depending on who you ask, the word “stem” can mean different things to different people.
Removing the stems from fruit can make them more appealing, while a boat can stem a tide or current.
Stemming, on the other hand, can prevent the spread of something undesirable.
It therefore stands to reason that if one is able to prevent the spread of something undesirable, it can make other things seem more appealing.
The fourth industrial revolution is the term used to describe the ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices using modern smart technology such as mobile devices, internet of things platforms and 3D printing.
One of the biggest trends includes smart sensors – devices that generate data and allow further functionality, from self-monitoring and self-configuration to condition monitoring of complex processes, with this type of technology being used in smart watches and fitness trackers.
Such sensors have great potential and scope of application in agriculture to detect crop stages and level of irrigation. In the food industry, they can be used to collect human data as well as product data.
With the fourth industrial revolution gaining traction with every passing day, the challenges faced in the wake of ongoing automation should not be overlooked as they could be of an economic, social, political and organisational nature.
When honing in on organisational breaks that could curb the fruition of this concept, not only from a global perspective but at a national level, a lack of adequate skillsets to fast-track developments and transition, as well as insufficient employee qualifications should be borne in mind.
August 2020 has featured national events such as Science Week and Women’s Day.
It is therefore of concern to note that a UN Educational Science and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) report titled Cracking the code: Girls’ and women’s education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) highlighted that only 35% of girls study Stem subjects globally, with only 3% of female students in higher education choosing information and communication technology as a study major.
As a Unesco member state, South Africa should embrace the opportunity to bridge this gender disparity because Stem careers are frequently referred to as the occupations of the future, driving innovation and social wellbeing, including growth and sustainable development, both of which are pivotal concepts amid the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
As there is an urgent need to increases female representation in positions of influence, there is no better place to start than at secondary school level, where teachers should encourage and support girls to choose Stem subjects, as science and innovation benefits from diversity.
In addition, female scientists are, by definition, resilient, having overcome well-documented barriers that include a lack of encouragement from teachers, family and society, marked by a lack of role models and a disproportionate amount of domestic work and caring responsibilities.
A question that should not be left unanswered is: How can Stem be made more attractive for pupils and school leavers when making a future career choice?
Exposing girls to Stem fields and encouraging them to follow their hearts and minds is the first step. However, simply focusing attention on one age group cannot address all societal issues that influence female career choices.
Correcting negative perceptions girls develop at a young age can guide them to embrace mathematics and science when they reach high school, as opposed to avoiding them.
As long as boys and girls are exposed to science and technology, and are equally encouraged to study those disciplines, those with talent and a general interest in these fields will be able to cultivate that interest.
Science and technology are, and will continue to be, important areas of study that will shape life as we know it.
Recovery from Covid-19 must result in a more equal society that is more resilient to future crises.
Women will be the hardest hit by this pandemic owing to issues such as domestic violence and violation of the rights of women and girls.
What cannot be ignored is that they will also form the backbone of recovery from this pandemic in communities across the country.
The honey bee is a prime example of stemming resistance to careers in Stem.
These tiny insects are great mathematicians, with a vast amount of knowledge regarding the world around them.
They have the ability to produce a geometrically impressive waxy comb, preferring hexagons over other shapes owing to this shape being more economical to build as it requires the least amount of wax but with the capacity to store the most honey.
The ability of a hexagon to produce maximum storage capacity from the smallest surface area possible has been proven by modern science time and again.
Furthermore, employing hexagons over other shapes results in cells that are so strong that less material is needed by cell walls to support honey content.
A thorough study of the structure of a honeycomb involves mathematics so complex that only a computer can calculate it.
The next time your car uses GPS to find the shortest route to your travel destination, bear in mind that foraging honey bees can find the shortest route between flowers and come to the same conclusion as a computer.
As if the above is not enough food for thought, honey is a source of antioxidants with health-giving properties, while the bees themselves serve as pollinators of billions of plants on an annual basis, including millions of agricultural crops.
It is estimated that bees play a key role in one out of every three bites of food we eat, and play a part in every aspect of the ecosystem – supporting the growth of trees, flowers and other plants.
They contribute to complex, interconnected ecosystems that allow a diverse number of species to coexist and thrive.
Our knowledge regarding the humble honey bee stems from individuals who chose Stem fields as a career path.
Covid-19 has resulted in an exponential increase in the use of technology for office meetings, connecting with loved ones and education through platforms such as Zoom, once again showcasing that Stem fields are vital in the future development and adaptability of society.
Kassier is an associate professor of dietetics and human nutritionat the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She was recently selected as one of five academics who were named the university’s 2020 Wonder Women in Science.
Visit Wonder Women In Science to learn more about her journey