Girls ICT Skills Gap: What Can Be Done?
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:
- 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.
- 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
- 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).
There is a strong need for governments and the ICT sector to cooperate to address this problem. In Europe this has been recognized through the European Comission’s Communication on ‘e-Skills for the 21st century: fostering competitiveness, growth and jobs‘, which was a call to action for all involved.
A similar problem affects other developed countries, such as the USA and Japan. However, in other parts of the world, such as SE Asia, the problem is different: young people are rather enthusiastic about ICT, and countries like China, India and Vietnam have large pools of talented engineers and programmers. However, these engineers and programmers, although highly skilled technically, often lack the appropriate blend of business, language and management skills.
Numerous actions have been put in place in Europe and the USA, which can act as models for other regions of the world. For instance, in Europe, the e-Skills career portal aims to give information on ICT careers, learning resources and more for young people interested in the field – TechCareer Compass plays a similar role more focused on North America. Both are based on multi-stakeholder approaches involving governments, companies and the education sector. These kinds of portals focus on career profiles, indicating the range of skills required for different technical careers and highlighting the specific competences needed for individual posts.
In addition, industry has launched its own approaches to make ICT more exciting and engaging for older students and to encourage them to take up careers: key examples are the Networking Academy programme from Cisco, Microsoft’s Imagine Cup and Thinkquest, run by the Oracle Foundation.
All of these initiatives are run globally. In all of the programmes, young people are encouraged to develop a wide range of skills (e.g. team leadership, organization, planning across different locations, language) in addition to more classical technical skills such as programming and web development. It is interesting to note that young people in developing countries regularly achieve high places, comparable to their developed country counterparts, in the competitive elements of these programmes.
Of course, the programmes are rolled out in slightly different ways depending on national needs; for instance in the case of Thinkquest, countries that only recently joined the programme are typically supported through the organization of face to face training workshops for students and teachers. Meanwhile, in the case of NetAcad, they offer online support and training bringing together developing countries such as Cambodia with their more developed regional counterparts such as Japan and Singapore. This facilitates transfer of knowledge between students in these different countries.
Also some countries have more sophisticated needs than others: Net Acad for instance targets younger students in Egypt than in other countries. In Egypt, students are highly motivated and skilled in acquiring networking competency (both girls and boys), and thus the curricula are used already at relatively young ages compared to others.
However – despite all these actions, or perhaps because of the wide variety, it can be difficult for a student or teacher to find their way through all the offers and get an overview of the opportunities.
So, in the case of Europe the European Commission has taken the initiative to launch an e-Skills week, to raise awareness of all the actions in the field across Europe. The week will be coordinated by Digital Europe and European Schoolnet and take place in March 2010–although EU-based, we invite stakeholders all over the world to join in this campaign and get more young people enthused about ICT, wherever they are based.