The annual Ms.Geek competition was founded last year as a platform to showcase the talent of Rwandan girls to use technology to provide solutions to Rwandan problems and serve as an awareness tool that encourages girls to take on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.
VIDEO: Rwanda Girls in ICT - Miss Geek 2015, Winner and First Runner Up. Source: The New Times/YouTube.
Over the weekend, the contest, for the second time, gave girls the chance to display their ability and interest in ICT.
This year, the competition attracted about 120 girls from high school and university compared to only 25 last year.
Unlike the trend as has been in most other contests featuring ladies, the basis of competition was not beauty and catwalks but ICT solutions addressing various problems through applications. The contestants were expected to present solutions on how technology can bridge the education gap and provide equal access to quality education.
Five finalists were selected out of the total entries with all solutions themed around education provision and access. The finalist made presentations before a panel of judges and an audience as well as fielded questions to give further insights to their solutions.
Fifteen year old Vanessa Mutesi, from Kigali International Community School, beat the other four finalists to emerge the winner after presenting an education access platform, dubbed ‘Rwanda Online Open School’, that would enable students access learning material as well as interlink students for information sharing purposes.
Mutesi took home a cash prize of Rwf2million, two tablets, a phone, a laptop, internship opportunity at a local ICT firm as well as a trip to a tech conference either in Barcelona or Geneva. She will also receive support to see her solution become fully functional.
The second place was claimed by Stella Ituze, who presented a solution ‘Maxi Online lab’ that would come in handy for students without access to laboratories for science experiments while the third place went to Vanina Umutako of Gashora Girls whose solution ‘Rwanda Education’ seeks to make learning materials to learners all across the country accessible.
Prior to the finale, the girls had been taken through training sessions to prepare them for presentation and a better understanding of their solutions.
Giving an insight into the criteria used to select the winners, Paula Ingabire, the head of ICT at the Rwanda Development Board, said that they were looking for innovativeness, accessibility, usability and how well the solution addressed the problem statement.
The contest was seen by participants and the general public as an important path towards using technology as a pillar for development as outlined in the national development strategies.
Imbuto Foundation’s Deputy Director General Diyana Gatete, who was among the judges, said technology, being a facilitator towards Vision 2020 and the second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy was important to make sure that there was inclusion of the two sexes in technology rollout.
She noted that the initiative had a positive impact on young girls who were now developing applicable solutions.
Experts say that women participation in the sector has for long been minimal in part due to stereotypes that held the notion it was a male field.
Dr Aminata Garba, the assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, urged the girls to go beyond the stereotypes and line of thought that women are only ICT consumers and not producers.
Going by the solutions presented, she said, women had as much ability as men to work in the sector.
Noting that female workers make up only about 20 per cent of the global ICT workforce, Dr Garba said the field has numerous opportunities for ladies if only they agreed to go beyond the clichés that they did not belong to the sector.
Patrick Nyirashema, the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency director general, pledged government’s support to see the ideas presented materialise into usable solutions in the country and beyond.
The Minister of Youth and ICT, Philbert Nsengimana, took the opportunity to announce that his ministry together with the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion were developing a 5 year strategy for Gender empowerment and mainstreaming in technology (GEM-Tech).
He said that the new strategy would outline the targets, impacts and source for necessary resources to close the gender gap in participation in ICT.
The strategy, he said, would fast-track the process to bridge the gap of women participation in ICT and ensure that the current and future generations have better chances to pursue careers of their preference.