By Sean Connick | Published: 11th August 2023
In the rapidly evolving landscape of education, technology has emerged as a game-changer, ushering in an era of digital education. This transformation has the potential to level the playing field and address disparities in education, thereby advancing the cause of equality. However, as we embrace the promises of digital education, it becomes crucial to recognize both its potential and challenges in achieving equal access and opportunities for all.
Significant progress has been made in addressing gender disparities in education over the past 25 years. Between 1995 and 2018, there was an increase in the proportion of countries achieving gender parity in education, with primary education rising from 56 percent to 65 percent, lower secondary education from 45 percent to 51 percent, and upper secondary education from 13 percent to 24 percent Report. Nevertheless, despite these encouraging trends, gender-related inequalities persist, and access to education remains a challenge for many girls, especially those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, living in areas of conflict and crisis, and dealing with disabilities. According to UNESCO's estimates, around 11.2 million girls and young women could be at risk of dropping out of school or being unable to access education due to the ongoing pandemic.
A significant report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2017 underscores the primary obstacles encountered by women and girls when it comes to accessing digital education and participating in the digital economy.
Nearly all Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation economies, except for the United States, witnessed women exhibiting lower levels of internet usage as compared to men. Notably, among the APEC economies with accessible data, Peru and Indonesia emerged as the countries showcasing the most pronounced digital gender divide. It is crucial to recognize that this trend transcends APEC economies, as a global discrepancy of approximately 250 million fewer women using the internet in contrast to men persists.
Within certain APEC economies, especially in rural regions and among those facing socio-economic disadvantages, the issue of affordability can serve as a substantial obstacle to accessing the digital realm. Affordability encompasses more than just the financial means required to acquire and utilize digital technologies—it also involves human resources. This encompasses the time necessary to acquire proficiency in using digital tools. Yet, the burden of time scarcity tends to disproportionately impact women. This is frequently influenced by various elements, including the unpaid domestic responsibilities that women typically shoulder within their households, including childcare and caregiving for the elderly.
The adverse encounters that numerous girls and women face in online spaces can yield detrimental repercussions in their lives. Instances of cyberbullying, gender-based stereotyping, and online harassment contribute to a prevailing sentiment that women do not find online environments safe or conducive to asserting themselves. Consequently, many families discourage girls from actively participating in these spaces. These negative encounters, occurring within digital platforms, media, and social networks, can significantly impact the overall well-being of young girls and women. Such effects ripple into their self-esteem, trust, mental health, and physical safety.
Numerous barriers obstruct women from assuming proactive roles in the digital revolution, grounded in the opportunities, attitudes, and expectations they encounter. In this context, educational institutions, notably schools, play a pivotal role. Schools offer a critical space where education can counteract the gendered digital divide by dismantling limiting gender stereotypes that hinder girls from cultivating the skills, aspirations, and self-assurance necessary to excel in the digital sphere. Facilitating access to quality education for all individuals, including girls and women residing in disadvantaged areas, is an essential prerequisite for bridging the gender gap, both in the analog and digital realms.
Additionally, addressing the scarcity of role models for girls, challenging gender biases ingrained in textbooks, and rectifying the personal prejudices of educational professionals are equally important. Far too often, societal and familial pressures lead girls to conform to stereotypical notions of femininity, impacting their choices regarding courses, educational paths, and careers. Consequently, girls frequently receive advice aligned with these stereotypes. This intricate web of factors ultimately contributes to economies characterized by a dearth of women possessing the skills, confidence, and determination needed to thrive in the digital domain. Moreover, it leads to a scenario where too few women are inclined to take on leadership roles within the digital realm, even when they possess the requisite competencies. The full report can be found here
The challenges mentioned earlier might appear to be an overwhelming concern, yet there are some amazing programmes designed to help women and girls to access digital education and the digital economy. Below are a few examples.
One Laptop per Child Initiative: Launched in 2005, this project aimed to provide affordable laptops to children in developing countries, including girls, to bridge the digital divide. The initiative sought to empower young girls with access to technology and education opportunities, allowing them to develop digital skills and engage in online learning.
She Will Connect initiated in partnership with various organizations, aims to provide digital literacy training to women in developing countries. The project offers online and offline resources to help women build digital skills and confidence, enabling them to take advantage of online education and economic opportunities.
Girls Who Code: This organization works to close the gender gap in technology by offering computer science education and coding programs specifically designed for girls. Through after-school clubs, summer programs, and online resources, "Girls Who Code" empowers girls to explore technology and build digital skills.
Internet Saathi by Google: In collaboration with Tata Trusts, Google's "Internet Saathi" program has been successful in training rural women across India to use the Internet effectively. The program provides these women with smartphones and digital literacy training, enabling them to access educational content and online resources.
Code to Inspire: This organization operates in Afghanistan and offers an all-female coding school where young women can learn programming and technology skills. By equipping them with digital skills, "Code to Inspire" empowers Afghan girls to pursue careers in technology and access online educational resources.
Khan Academy: While not gender-specific, platforms like Khan Academy provide free online educational content that is accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Such platforms have helped girls and women around the world access quality education in subjects ranging from mathematics to coding.
Promoting global access to digital education for girls and women remains an ongoing imperative on the international agenda. While significant strides have been taken over the past decade, attaining genuine equality demands sustained efforts and unwavering commitment moving forward.
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