It is well established that, properly planned and implemented, ICTs can help improve educational outcomes for youth and also empower girls. They help increase access to information, improve communication, and allow for new methods of learning. For girls, they can reduce barriers to access in receiving important information about things they might not be able to ask their families or elders about, such as birth control. ICT initiatives in education, therefore, can be enormously beneficial in development.
However, many of these programs are gender neutral. They don’t make specific distinctions between the needs of boys and of girls. In many parts of the world, gender neutrality inherently favors boys. For example, one Cameroonian school has five working computers for 1000 students, and there is a great deal of competition among students to use them. This means that boys are usually the ones who gain access, thinking “why should [the girl] be holding a computer mouse when at the end of the day [she] will be hold a baby’s napkin?” Boys will often restrict their girl classmates’ access to ICTs by monopolizing the available tools and ridiculing girls who are trying to learn how to use them.
ICT4D initiatives, then, should not and cannot ignore gender. Boys and girls have different needs, different levels of access, different positions in society. For ICT4D initiatives to succeed and have a truly innovative impact, they must factor in these differences. Safe public spaces, such as libraries, with access to ICTs could help improve girls’ access. Also, schools could separate “computer time” by gender so that girls would be better able to access the tools and feel more confident using them. Initiatives focusing specifically on girls could also be helpful. Whatever the solution, though, ICT4D initiatives need to make specific concessions for girls or the programs will be biased against them.
Started in 2010 by the International Technological Union (ITU), the International Girls in ICTs Day is centered around the idea of celebrating and promoting female involvement in the international technology sector. While ITU itself does not put on any events for the day, it encourages all ICT related organizations and stakeholders to be involved, stating on their website, “these are events where girls and university students are invited to spend the day at the office of ICT companies and government agencies so they better understand the opportunities the ICT sector holds for their future.” The website also provides various resources and promotional materials for general International Girls in ICTs Day events and profiles of female role models in the technology industry from around the world. Additionally, they provide archives of current and past events for the day to encourage groups around the world to become involved in the cause.
One event put on last year in Swaziland brought two communications companies in the nation together with 160 high school girls from around Swaziland in the first annual Girls in ICT Communications Installations Tour. The groups visited national and regional communications stations and viewed presentations from sector female and male professionals among other things.
While the gender gap in the ICT sector around the world is far from solved, events and celebratory days like this are crucial to encouraging and promoting the involvement of women and girls in ICTs. The growth of events like these and the idea that girls and women can and should have equal roles as men in the technology industries play a large role in the path towards gender equality, access, and education.
In class today, we had a presentation on gender inequality by Keshet Bachan, a gender equality expert from Israel. Among her talking points, Bachan noted that there are many forms of violence against adolescent woman, including trafficking and prostitution, and that many women who come from poor backgrounds are vulnerable to this sort of violence.
In my country papers for this class, I researched the Francophone West African state of Côte d’Ivoire. Through this research and my interest in this nation, I have learned that it lags behind many of its neighbors in the different ICT sectors and that there is much gender inequality in the state. The government does not invest much money, if any at all, in women’s education or fertility. And along those lines and echoing Bachan’s presentation, female mutilation/cutting is a common practice. UNICEF defines female mutilation as “the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons.” This is particularly a problem in Cote d’Ivoire where a national law was adopted in 1998 to criminalize the activity. It is a problem among people who do not have access to education, the Muslim population and the Voltaïques and Northern Monde ethnic groups, where over 70% of the women are mutilated. Genital mutilation is not only a problem for the obvious reasons of discriminating against and suppressing women, but it also leads to child mortality and makes it easier for adolescent women to contract HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
Genital mutilation in Côte d’Ivoire is a form of social integration and sometimes a required religious ritual of purification. Seeing that female mutilation was in direct conflict with four of the Millennium Development Goals, (MDG 3: promoting gender equality & empowering women, MDG 4: reducing child mortality, MDG 5: improving maternal health, MDG 6: combatting HIV-AIDS, malaria and other diseases) UNICEF has begun to take action to safeguard human rights in the country. Through advocacy for women’s rights, gender equality and access to education, UNICEF has been able to raise awareness about the issue and help curtail genital mutilation. They have also used nationwide technology campaigns on radio television and mobile phones to establish child protection networks and to empower adolescent and adult women. Between 2000 and 2006, national genital mutilation dropped in females from 44% to 36.4% in direct response to these radio and television campaigns. While we in the United States may scoff at the power that radio has to bring people together and raise awareness about issues, because we are so engulfed with social media and smartphones, radio is showing in Côte d’Ivoire that it is a reliable strategy to achieving gender equality in developing countries.
Over the past couple of weeks, there has been much confusion and debate as to whether One Laptop Per Child is still a functioning project. OLPC News announced on March 11, “OLPC is dead.” This was not so surprising considering the harsh criticism the project has received since it began. However, the statement may not be true.
Rodrigo Arboleda, the CEO of the One Laptop Per Child Association in Miami, provided a rebuttal arguing that OLPC is alive now more than ever. He explained that the project is about to distribute 50,00 XO-4 Touch Tablets to students in Uruguay. In an interview with Xconomy, Arboleda explained that OLPC’s original vision was to focus on education rather than the distribution of laptops and the project will be heading back towards that original mission.
Arboleda plans to focus on more educational “learning-by-doing” tools that can be used with the devices already distributed. Although I believe this is a good approach for the future, I can’t help criticize the idea of considering learning through a computer as “learning-by-doing”. Sitting at a computer and playing games is not “doing” anymore than sitting in a classroom or using workbooks.
OLPC is obviously not dead yet. The project is taking on a new approach that will hopefully gain it some of its credibility back.
The Digital Study Hall is a project that aims to develop the rural educational system in India through the use of video. Students watch recorded instructional videos of some of the best teachers in the country. Here is a short example:
Teachers then supplement the videos with engaging activities and discussions. The majority of the students really enjoy the DSH videos, but issues with sustainability and theft have prevented the project from scaling up. DSH researchers constantly monitor the schools and without their oversight, the projects would would lose momentum and fail.
Although there are many flaws with DSH in the classroom, the implementation of DSH has created a network of teachers and parents. With the technology in place, teachers are being taught about gender rights and other social issues. Through videos, teachers are learning how to make parent-teacher meetings more interesting and productive by discussing social issues.
The Study Hall Educational Foundation launched a campaign called “India’s Daughters”. With all the teachers, parents, and students engaged in DSH, over 22,000 people were mobilized for a rally against child marriage.
Even if the initial goal of the project has not been successful, the project has provided the technology and connections to give rise to other social change.
The vast majority is very quick to criticize ICT4D projects and highlight statistics such as the World Bank statistic that states that about 70% of ICT projects fail, without even understanding the context of these numbers. In this case, how does the World Bank define failure? What constitutes a project as a failure? Some projects may be black and white with a clear boundary between success and failure; however, most projects lack this definitive boundary. For example, the Zambian Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI) program, known as Learning at the Taonga Market (LTM) was launched in 2000 to create low cost, high quality education for educationally and geographically marginalized areas in Zambia. The LTM integrates IRI, which acts as an active teaching tool, and the Lifeline radio, which is a dual-powered device that uses both wind-up and solar technology minimizing the dependency on other energy sources to teach lessons written and recorded by the Educational Broadcasting Services in conjunction with the Education Development Center. This program was designed to use existing technology, such as the radio, to provide high-quality education for over 800,000 children who cannot attend school. Since its implementation, over 160,000 children have received education through the LTM and these children have tested better than the children attending mainstream schools.
While this program appears to be working, some people argue it is another failed ICT project. Even though the demand for the LTM program and the enrolment of G1 participants have steadily increased, the retention rate is uncomfortably low as only 2,916 of the total 7,782 learners completed G5. Additionally, when testing the participants’ literacy and numeracy skills, it was apparent that the children had gained knowledge. However, the mean numeracy score dropped from 71.5% in 2001 to 63% in 2003 and the literacy skills dropped from 56.6% in 2001 to 48.8% in 2003. Even though observers noticed an improvement in literacy and numeracy skills, the tests proved otherwise. Does this mean that the project failed?
The lowered retention rate could be due to a lack of monitoring and evaluation; some people could be counted as “drop outs” even if they just switched IRI centers. Additionally, the discrepancies in the numeracy and literacy tests could be due to the different sample sizes tested in 2001 and 2003. Therefore, is it accurate to consider this project a failure on the basis of somewhat skewed data? And even if the data were accurate, should this project be classified as a failure based on two statistics, even when vast improvements and increases in demand have been noted? All these questions cannot be answered unless we define failure.
In the fight against eliminating poverty worldwide, there is one tool that is the most effective – education. According to the Global Partnership for Education, if all students in developing countries completed school with basic reading skills, global poverty could be cut by 12%. A good education can also reduce infant mortality rates, improve life-expectency and improve nationwide stability. There is an undeniable link between education and poverty reduction, and its up to those in the development community to try and improve access to education worldwide.
Thankfully, there are many industrious and innovative professionals who have taken this call to arms. These individuals are using ICTs to close the education gap, especially in rural communities. In an article for Human IPO, an online news journal for African tech news, author Gabriella Mulligan details the impact that Kusile Labs & Technology has had on schools in rural South Africa.
Kusile Labs & Technology works to install mobile science and computer laboratories in rural schools in an attempt to better educate these communities in the areas of technology and innovation. These mobile laboratories work to teach students important science and ICT concepts through laboratories that can easily be implemented in any environment. With these mobile laboratories, students can perform experiments through using and learning ICT tools. Hopefully, more organizations will follow the lead of Kusile Labs and will continue to help in the fight to bring improved educational technologies to the rural communities that need it most.