Gender Equality in ICT Education
Look at any ICT-enabled school classroom, and there is often a greater excitement for the technology with boys than girls, which by middle or secondary school, can translate into ICT tools being an exclusive domain of boys, excluding half the learning population from their benefit. How can technologists and educators design more gender neutral, or pro-female ICT-enabled learning experiences? And from these experiences, can we hope to also change the gender balance in the ICT industry? Or will ICT, as an industry, always be mainly male”?
For September, the Educational Technology Debate we’ll have three discussants to give us both the formal research recommendations and informal, personal experiences from which educators can develop ways to motivate all students to enjoy ICT equally.
Here is my personal story on how I became an ICT expert, with highlights on the key events that put me on the road to break the glass ceilings in the field. From that, I have recommendations for educators & technologists on how they could improve classroom instruction and/or the technology itself to excite more [...]
In the early years of the Internet, the typical user was young, male and most likely to be American. In the last ten years, the picture has changed significantly, with women representing a larger proportion of internet users, at a range of different ages. However there is still concern among both governments and the ICT industry that girls are excluded from ICT – is this reality, or just perception?
Technology can be a lonely – and sometimes intimidating – field for a woman. I was often the only woman in the computer lab when I was an undergrad in the mid-1980s. The same was true for my ten year career in the Latin American telecom industry. Often if there were another woman in a meeting, it would be a secretary.
I would frequently take very deep breaths before entering into a meeting as it is very intimidating to walk into a room full of men and confidently carve out a place for yourself. But I did carve out place for myself in the ICT industry – due to the support of my parents, role models and mentors. Technologists and educators can develop this critical support system for women in developing countries, to help encourage them to embrace technology and ICT-oriented careers.
Despite ICT tools being well embedded in every day life in developed countries, and increasingly in developing countries (particularly mobile devices), industry and governments are concerned about the skills gap.
The skills gap refers to three main needs: 1. Basic ICT literacy among all citizens, so that they can play a full and active role in a knowledge society, and benefit from opportunities offered by e-government, eLearning, etc. and exploit ICT tools in daily life. 2. Advanced ICT skills that can be applied in working contexts, whether in the ICT sector itself or fulfilling an ICT function in any type of organization. In particular, current research indicates a lack of skills in highly specific domains such as security and green IT. 3. Particular combinations of appropriate skills (e.g. IT plus sectoral knowledge of a field such as healthcare, or IT plus language skills and business competence).
In the opening introduction of this debate, I suggested that the absence of girls’ excitement around ICT in schools and the rarity of women in ICT careers was universal throughout the developing world. That in every country, boys were the most interested in “geeking out” and superseded women in the higher levels of the ICT industry. Thankfully, this misconception was exposed quickly by commenters.
Yet there is an observable hurtle to having an equal gender balance in the usage of ICT in education and the resulting make-up of ICT industry populations. As Alexa Joyce pointed out in the study which started this debate, most girls ‘drop out’ of ICT studies once they reach middle or high school. While a distaste for maths or physics can be one issue, there is a large, social influence: role models.