AU Chair of Educational Technologies Miss Basuti Bolo from Botswana has been selected as a 2020 mentor in the United Nations Space4Women Project. Space4Women is a United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) project, that facilitates access to the benefits of space exploration, science and technology, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, and STEM careers for women and girls around the world (space4women.unoosa.org) .
Delving into the topical issues surrounding increasing the participation of women in STEM fields especially in the African context and why it is so important to the sustained developmental trajectory of the continent, we had the pleasure of interviewing Miss Bolo to gain her invaluable insights. We began by asking her what her most recent appointment means to her, what inspired her to go into the sciences and what her larger vision for Africa University and its STEM research is.
Q: What steps have you taken in your career that have led you to this point?
Miss Bolo: At first my dream and interest in space science and technology was inspired by a picture of a Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin who became the first human to travel into space. This was back when I was only in Standard five. I used to look at the picture and vowed that I too will one day do the same. My curiosity for space science was sparked by an interest in knowing many unexplained mysteries of things happening in space such as the cause of some plane crashes. I dreamed of becoming an astronaut at an early stage. Then later on I wanted to be a pilot, at last I settled on studying Space Applications, Space and Atmospheric Science.
I have been participating and contributing towards United Nations Office for Outer Space Administration (UNOOSA) programs for quite some time. In 2017, I attended and presented at the United Nations Expert Meeting on Space for Women Forum that was held from 4th- 6th October 2017 in New York, USA. My presentation titled ‘Earth Observation technology: a sustainable tool for women to monitor the environment’, attracted various participants from various countries, including UN delegates. I was interviewed by the UN Department for Public Information on October 5, published on the UN radio, news and media programmes.
I have also won UNOOSA sponsorship to attend and present at different high level conferences and forums on space science and technology. These have included the United Nations Space 4 Women Project that was held in New York 2017, USA; Space for Socio-economic Sustainable Development, Dubai 2017, UAE; Space for Water Resources Management, Islamabad 2018, Pakistan and UNISPACE 50+, Vienna 2018, Austria .
Q: Can you briefly describe your career moves over the past few years in the sciences sector?
Miss Bolo: I have worked in the field of Space science, Geographical Information System (GIS), Remote sensing and Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), in various leadership and management positions for more than 15 years.
I am a PhD Candidate and I hold an MSc in Information Systems with Botswana International University of science and Technology (BIUST), a Post-Graduate Diploma in Space and Atmospheric Science, with the United Nations – African Regional Center for Space Science and Technology Education in English (ARCSSTEE), Ile-Ife, Nigeria, a BSc Honors Degree in Geographical Information Systems (GIS), University of Greenwich of United Kingdom, and a Certificate in International Development Studies for NGO`S with Capacity Africa Institute of Kenya.
In 2016, I volunteered to teach Botswana primary and secondary school teachers Introduction to Information Technology and Computing Programs to emancipate my community and encourage the embracing of technology at grassroots level which I feel is so important if we are seriously going to harness technology for the advancement of Africa.
Q: What is the significance of your appointment as a Space 4 Women Mentor?
Miss Bolo: This will help me as I establish a local Space 4 Women network to empower women and girls in the country. The network also will assist in networking with other mentors globally to exchange knowledge, skills and experiences as well as introducing the local team globally. The aim is to mentor women and girls to enter into STEAM and the space sector. Africa needs to include “A” for Arts because it needs the designers of space suits, space teachers for history, business, theology and tourism, and also space media, space psychology and space law etc. Globally, 90% of future jobs will require STEM-related skills. Women must possess these skills to be competitive in the future employment market. Studies in both private and public sectors have shown that a diversity of skills perspectives leads to greater innovation and success. This network will encourage teachers and parents, women and girls. Girls have a limited exposure to the creativity and contributions so their entry into STEM fields will certainly make for a better world.
Q: How do you see yourself through this appointment contributing to the larger vision and mission of Africa University as it relates to STEM?
Miss Bolo: The AU mission is to provide quality education and leadership development, this network will empower the AU community through learning and research based on the advanced technologies on space science, technology, applications and engineering. This will also provide quality education that is aligned with Education 5.0 . AU will be positioned to fill the existing gap of shortages in space technologies, encourage women empowerment and tip the scales in gender equality. Through this network the following knowledge will be shared for the benefit of all:
1. Quality Education on: Space Education – A Global Connectivity Tool for Space for All and Sustainable Development.
2. Quality Education on: Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) for Navigation and Precision Farming.
3. Quality Education on: Earth Observation Technology as A Sustainable Tool for Women to Monitor the Environment.
4. Quality Education on: Space applications on Health.
Q: How should we position our youth be better prepared for the STEM world ?
Miss Bolo: Space education at primary level will increase the number of youth who pursue space science careers, this not only encourages those who may not be as capable in STEM subjects but it also opens up this world to learners at different levels and ignites that essential interest and passion.
The application of STEM in the Sustainable Development Goals has shown to be a most useful tool to achieve almost all the SDGs, but for more use of space science and technology in different areas, diversification into the space sector is a need. Diversification can only be achieved by space education. Educating the society about space sectors, use and integration with other technologies, can increase the use of space and involve everyone. Space skills is needed to empower all in order to increase the level of space exploration and innovation for sustainable development. Because space is not common for all, people need skills such as space education, science, technology and applications. Space application focuses on the use of space to solve daily challenges faced by human beings.
Q: Finally, through this network, what future initiatives are on the horizon that will bring more women and girls into the study of STEM subjects and the pursuit of careers in these fields?
Miss Bolo: I am at the initial stage of starting a space for women and girls network named Space4Women_AfricaDreamers for awareness. Space4Women_AfricaDreamers is a proposed network for women and girls who are interested in the space sector in Zimbabwe and others countries. The objectives of the network are to create an awareness, role models and mentors to inspire, guide, encourage, and support and mentor women and girls in Zimbabwe and the region on the space sector and Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) education.
Space4Women_AfricaDreamers network will also act as a catalyst network platform working to achieve the UNOOSA Space4Women goals. This network will also be a valuable tool for engaging professionals within the country to raise awareness on the importance of STEAM education and the opportunities in the space field.
Zimbabwe like other countries needs to use space science technology to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This network will create more opportunities to teach and share experiences to empower women and girls on the skill to pursue space programs to solve challenges. Zimbabwe is also one of the countries that support gender equality, the Space4Women_ AfricaDreamers network will also be used to promote gender equality and gender empowerment in the space and STEAM sector. The network will be open to everyone with interest in space and willingness to support women and girls in space education and careers within the country and abroad.
The proposed Space4Women_AfricaDreamers network will start to operate at Africa University. The University has good learning and training educational platforms and tools that are at par for the 21st Century. Africa University has various female students from more than 31 African countries. The University will be used as the center of the network because of its sheer diversity. Ultimately I believe that, “To educate and empower one female student, you have educated all”.