Because of the many educational barriers faced by a typical girl child in Africa, it seems that promoting girl child education using technology in Africa is currently more of a fantasy than a day-to-day reality. Over the past few years, it has become evident to many governments that while it is important to educate boys, it is equally vital to invest in the education of young girls and as such, there has been a rise in the number of girl children at primary, secondary and tertiary levels.
By Maureen Agena
“The state of girls’ education has improved significantly over the past decade. However, girls continue to lag behind their male counterparts in many areas of the world, in terms of access to education, completion of schooling, and acquisition of basic skills such as literacy” (World Bank, 2011). According to research undertaken by the World Bank, around 106 million children were out of primary school in 1999. Almost 61 million (58%) were girls compared to 45 million (42%) boys. By 2009, around 35 million girls were still out of school compared to 31 million boys. Although the gap in gender parity has decreased substantially, there are still many more girls out of primary school than boys (World Bank, 2011)
Gender equality is a basic human right enshrined in the United Nations Charter. In the year 2000, at the United Nations Millennium Summit, the Millennium Development Goals were established and signed by 189 heads of state around the world: a list of eight overarching goals for developing countries to achieve by 2015 was outlined. Within this list, Goal 3a sought to ‘eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015’. Indicator 9 of this goal was to measure the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women, in the ratio of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education. However, the targets set by MDGs and other global forums have largely been missed on the African continent, partly because in Sub-Saharan Africa the number of out-of-school girls has decreased more slowly, from 25 million in 1999 to 17 million in 2008, according to the World Bank (2011).
For many years, the education of the girl child has not been a priority in many parts of the developing world because of a number of reasons, ranging from cultural, biological and social. This disparity has been reflected in areas of politics, leadership and business which have for many years, with some recent changes, been dominated by men.
The birth and rise of new media is, however, changing the story for many girls in Africa who have been given an opportunity to compete with their male counterparts. A new generation of girls using technology to change their story is being born. An example from Uganda is the GirlGeekKampala (girlgeekkampala.com), a group of young enthusiastic girls who have come together to encourage the culture of programming among female university students all over Uganda. Their goal is to facilitate favourable competition in developing applications for sale, to match their male counterparts.
Similarly, in South Africa, ShetheGeek (shesthegeek.co.za) is on a mission to empower women globally through training with technology and innovation. In Kenya, a fast growing technology base within East Africa, the school of Open Kenya initiative is creating positive impact and changing mind-sets (Creative Commons Blog, 2013). The initiative provides girls with peer mentorship, learning through the use of open educational resources, and using the Internet to objectively achieve their goals and actualise their ideas, while actively solving issues in their communities. Beyond individual efforts of girls trying to help fellow girls, institutions such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) strive to improve access to ICTs to underserved communities worldwide. Access to ICTs, the United Nations says, empowers women and girls to take their rightful place as equals in the world.
It is evident that investing in a girl child’s education is empowering a girl to make informed decisions about her life, to aspire for greater goals in life beyond marriage and to compete favourably with her male counterparts in politics, business, leadership and other fields, with one main goal of creating positive social change and contributing to the development of her society or nation. It is therefore important for leaders to encourage the culture of tolerance and acceptance in men, of women who break even in politics and other male dominated professions and cease to look at them as competitors or threats but rather as companions and team players in achieving a better good for society.
“How Technologies Can Help with Investing in Girls’ Education” is one of the twelve opinion pieces featured in the eLearning Africa 2013 Report. To read more about the annual publication, please visit: http://elearning-africa.com/media_library_publications_ela_report_2013.php.