Study Buddy (Explorer): Teen pilot Zara Rutherford shows the way for women with record flight around the world

  • Each week, Study Buddy Explorer presents an interesting story that we have adjusted to be more accessible for all English learners
  • Check your reading comprehension using the questions below or in the linked Kahoot! game
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Belgian-Briton pilot Zara Rutherford, 19, broke the Guinness World Record for being the youngest person to fly solo around the world in a microlight aircraft. Photo: EPA-EFE

Content provided by the British Council

Read the following text and answer questions 1-9 below:

[1] One reason for the lack of girls studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at school is a shortage of role models. But Belgian-Briton Zara Rutherford can be counted on to inspire with her record-setting around-the-world solo flight.

[2] At 19, she is the youngest woman to have accomplished the feat. She has also made history by doing so in a microlight aircraft. The achievement required skill, patience, bravery and nerves of steel. But to embrace the disciplines she embodies, it only takes curiosity and a willingness to break gender stereotypes.

[3] Rutherford took 155 days to circumnavigate the world, flying west from Flanders in Belgium and taking in 31 countries on five continents to complete the 52,000km journey. Her plane was not equipped to fly at night or through clouds. She met conditions she had not been trained to deal with, among them wildfires over California, freezing temperatures in Russia, thunderstorms on the equator, smog in India and desert haze over Saudi Arabia.

[4] Timing-wise, this flight fit in perfectly between secondary school and university. “I thought, actually, this is the perfect opportunity to do something crazy and fly around the world,” she said. With the final touchdown, the teenager wants to infuse the spirit of aviation in young women and girls worldwide – and enthusiasm for studies in the exact sciences, mathematics, engineering and technology.

[5] Rutherford’s parents are pilots, and she had harboured ambitions to make the trip since the age of 14. Her inspirations were women pioneers – the American aviator Amelia Earhart and Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. She now plans to study electrical engineering in university and wants to become an astronaut.

[6] She hopes her accomplishment will encourage more girls to study subjects at school that will lead to them becoming engineers, scientists and pilots. While more girls are starting to pursue these disciplines, studies show most girls limit themselves with their own gender biases, believing such careers are more suited to men. They may also be dissuaded by a lack of female role models, as well as parents, teachers and friends who are driven by gender stereotypes.

[7] Nobel Prizes highlight the gender discrepancy. Just 3 per cent of science category winners have been women, and they have usually shared the award with male peers. Careers in STEM areas offer higher wages and improved earning potential, but the United Nations has found that just 28 per cent of researchers are women. Their underrepresentation puts a brake on the global economy and sustainable development. Rutherford offers encouragement.
Source: South China Morning Post, January 24


Play a Kahoot! game about this story as a class or with your friends by clicking on the link here.

Or play on your own below to test your understanding:

1. What can Rutherford “be counted on” to do in paragraph 1?

2. What does “the achievement” refer to in paragraph 2?
A. completing an around-the-world solo flight
B. excelling in STEM subjects at school
C. operating an aircraft
D. all of the above

3. List three situations mentioned in paragraph 3 that Rutherford had not been trained to deal with. (3 marks)

4. Which word can replace “infuse” in paragraph 4?
A. soak
B. command
C. instil
D. inform

5. Why does Rutherford admire Amelia Earhart and Valentina Tereshkova?

6. Read paragraphs 5 and 6 and decide if the following statements are True, False or Not Given.
(i) At first, Rutherford’s parents were not supportive of her decision to study electrical engineering.
(ii) According to studies, most girls believe that certain jobs can only be done by men.
(iii) Rutherford’s accomplishment has resulted in more girls studying engineering.
(iv) Rutherford’s career aspiration is to be a pilot, just like her parents.

7. Find a word in paragraph 6 that refers to “a belief that some people are better or worse than others”.

8. According to paragraph 6, what are two factors that discourage girls from studying subjects at school that can lead to careers in aviation, engineering or science? (2 marks)

9. Complete the summary of paragraph 7 using the words and phrases below.

share / on hold / Nobel Prize / researchers

Women only make up 3 per cent of (i) _________ winners for science categories, and male colleagues usually (ii) _________ the award. There are not many women (iii) _________ according to the United Nations. Because women are less represented than men in these fields, this has put the global economy and sustainable development (iv) _________.

Zara Rutherford (left) hugs her mother Beatrice De Smet after returning from a record attempt to become the youngest woman ever to fly solo around the world in a small plane. Photo: dpa


1. inspire girls to study STEM subjects at school
2. A
3. wildfires / freezing temperatures / thunderstorms / smog / desert haze (any 3)
4. C
5. because they are women pioneers in aviation and aerospace / because they are women pioneers in what they do (any 1)
6. (i) NG; (ii) T; (iii) NG; (iv) F
7. bias
8. their own gender biases / parents, teachers and friends driven by gender stereotypes / a lack of female role models (any 2)
9. (i) Nobel Prize; (ii) share; (iii) researchers; (iv) on hold

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