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How Can ICT in Education Excite Girls and Boys?

Wayan Vota

Recently, European Schoolnet completed a study and white paper on gender equity in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector across Europe. They found that a high number of female students are not pursuing further studies or careers in the ICT sector, despite having good basic computing skills. In fact, the study found the single most de-motivating factor is the view that the tech sector is inherently better suited to men.

Girls ICT education

From this conclusion came the following question for developing world educators:

How Can ICT in Education Excite Girls and Boys?

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:

  • Alexa Joyce
    Alexa Joyce is a specialist in education technology with European Schoolnet. She has consulted for UNESCO Bangkok Asia-Pacific Bureau for Education, UNESCO International Institute of Educational Planning and for the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation. She has a Masters in Biological Sciences from the University of Oxford and an MBA from Solvay Business School, Brussels.
  • Brooke Partridge
    Brook Partridge is CEO and founder of Vital Wave Consulting, which she created to further emerging markets as a new discipline in business management. Previously, she was the Business Director of the Emerging Market Solutions Organization at HP where she lead HP’s first technology solutions for developing economies. She lectured in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Stanford University and holds a Master’s of Pacific International Affairs from UC San Diego.
  • Karen Coppock
    Karen Coppock, PhD is Vice President of Vital Wave Consulting with over a decade of experience in strategic business planning for emerging markets. Previously, Dr. Coppock served as the Director of Industry Collaboration for the Reuters Digital Vision Program at Stanford University, and also held positions with Telcordia Technologies, Williams Communications, INTELSAT, Pacific Bell, AT&T and Harvard’s Center for International Development (Information Technology Group), Santa Clara University’s Global Social Benefit Incubator and the US Peace Corps. She received her Doctoral and Master’s degrees in international business from the Fletcher School, Tufts University.

Please join us for what we all expect to be a lively and informative conversation exploring how ICT in education efforts may be influenced by gender, and how we can reverse the perception that anything ICT-related is the domain of boys, to the exclusion of girls. Your input can start right now in the comments below, and Alexa and Brooke will post their opening remarks beginning Monday, September 7th.

17 Responses to “How Can ICT in Education Excite Girls and Boys?”

  1. Even in Europe and the US this is a complicated but necessary issue. I know that the Alice project ( http://news.duke.edu/2009/06/computerfems.html ) has had success teaching programming using 3D characters and a visual programming language. Kids are able to make a 3D world without much difficulty, and girls relate to "storytelling" as a model for their first programs. The programming language is closely based on Java so a number of students use the experience to continue on to real code.

  2. While I don't propose to have an answer to this issue, I am trying in my own small way to excite my daughter with technology. So far, I've < ahref="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dcmetroblogger/3648850243/in/set-72157610865982326/">mixed results with an XO laptop

  3. I am fascinated by this debate, and recently carried out a small-scale study (a summary of which can be found at http://bit.ly/aX9iI ), which indicated that girls contributed up to five times as much in an online discussion compared to an offline discussion. If anything, this would suggest that the perception of boys being dominant in all areas of IT is perhaps outdated or outmoded! @mrlockyer

    • Stephen, it would be interesting to measure whether the boys' discussion was also increased when online.
      I feel that it is what the technology can do which can energise excitement in girls and boys. Quite often a learner may be put off by the sight of technology and the thought of yet another uninspiring ICT lesson. It is being shown what ICT can do and what they, the user, can do with ICT with leads to excitement and participation.

  4. While I don't propose to have an answer to this issue, I am trying in my own small way to excite my daughter with technology. So far, I've had mixed results with an XO laptop.

  5. Many developing Countries still face the problem of equity (for Girls and Boys) in both access and completion of Primary and Secondary Education; the focus on ICTs is more on how to use ICTs to promote and to increase Girls’ access and completion of Primary and Secondary levels.
    I am not aware of any local research conducted on the “imbalance between Girls and Boys in pursuing ICT studies and or making a carrier in ICTs”; I think that there is need to carry out such research locally. I have noticed that local Educated Girls are interested in using ICTs like boys; however I can not draw any conclusion about their interest in making it a carrier.

  6. I was at a government Open Source conference in Malaysia last November. One thing that was striking was that women were in a majority. This seems to indicate that culture makes a significant difference. Other research evidence in the west is that girls prefer learning styles that are collaborative and cooperative. If IT is seen as an individual interacting with a computer it is unsurprising that girls are less well represented. Of course social networking and collaborative learning strategies should then mitigate against this but many schools are still at the stage of banning such technologies from the classroom. I'm developing some support materials for new vocational ICT qualifications that promote a team approach to learning so this might help. http://theingots.org/community/ITQcourse1
    (This is a work in progress but its all creative commons licensed so anyone is free to take and use this work if they find it useful)

    • Ingotian,

      Interesting that you say there are many women in Open Source circles in Malaysia. I was talking with Mary Lou Jepsen of Pixel Qui, OLPC, and Intel, and she said that after 5 years of working in Asia (China, Taiwan, Japan, etc) she's only met one (1) local woman engineer. Were the women you met in Malaysia, Asian or other ethnicities who happen to be in Malaysia?

      • Indeed – when working in Asia, I found few women active in ICT apart from on the corporate side.

        A notable exception was Philippines: in a UNESCO workshop we organised on ICT in education, the whole Pinoy delegation was female. Almost all other countries sent only male delegates so it was quite remarkable.

        On the corporate side, Cisco particularly seems to be good at putting women in management positions and I also met quite a number of women playing key roles at Intel and Oracle.

  7. I can speak of what i am seeing in Indian IT sector industry (not a survey
    result but a personal view).

    Comparing late 90's there is almost 10-15 times jump in female participation
    in IT sector.

    In earlier (and to an extent late as well) 90's we will find hardly 2% of the IT companies having
    femaile IT engineers … now every IT company has almost
    20%-30% female engineers.

    In fact IT has become the biggest enabler of female ratio to
    come for engineering job. Earlier the main jobs Indian female
    would take are mostly secretary, nursing, and textile (spinning,
    yanning and weaving).

    It is the need for earning (money) that has driven this scenario in India.
    Probably not because of excitment that is triggered by ICT.

  8. I feel that I am unqualified to comment on this discussion, mostly because I have three sons and am not personally familiar with how boys and girls are treated differently in the diverse emerging market countries. My sisters have girls which allows me some ability to make comparisons. I am amazed at kids natural disposition for different things (boys = lego, weapons, electronic games; girls = dolls, dancing, playing house). While you could argue this due to culture vs genetics, I am sure if I did some research on the subject there would be multiple research reports on how much is "nurture vs. nature" and that some things are just hardwired into our genetic differences. But IT is critical skill and if there truly is an issue it should be addressed.

  9. Savannah205

    I think this study is very interesting, but I don't necessarily agree that ICT is being tilted toward a mainly male industry. I see evidence of women in ICT industry daily. Making decisions, building networks etc. I see women at my University, who are taking the technology bull by the horns, and running with it.

    I believe the technologists and educators who design the ICT enabled learning experiences may have to commit to designing for both boys and girls. The reason being that children of different genders and backgrounds may not be inspired by the same things. A young girl that may be "tom boyish" may be more excited about something that's sports based rather than the young boy who likes to cook.

  10. I am currently doing my B-Ed (Hons) in on line learning in South Africa. My research is about the integration of ICTs on the teaching and learning environment of girl learners. I am interested to hear anything about protecting girls from possible dangers on the use of ICTs in their learning and leisure time. We must remember that they are the most vulnerable beings so far.

  11. sorgbordjor

    i want to know the job oppurtunitties that one will gain when studies computer. please i want the result right now

  12. One might as well argue, as was once done, that girls are incapable of learning to read, because at that time only men, and only very few of them, could read. We will find that access is the first obstacle, and that cultural attitudes are the second. After that, we will have to provide legal protections for girls to learn and to practice what they learn. With all of that, it will still take a generation or two to turn the situation around even under reasonably favorable circumstances (no Taliban, for example). Votes for women in the US, for example, took 50 years to achieve from the first public announcement of the goal to the Constitutional Amendment needed. Job equality has not yet been achieved in the US.

    It was once a high point of Soviet propaganda that they had many more women in engineering, and in almost every other field, than the democracies (but not at the highest levels of the Party). I cite this not in admiration for Soviet central planning, but merely as an example to show that political will is the essential factor in allowing girls to achieve all that they are capable of. In spite of successes in education and careers, that was far from the case in the rest of Soviet life.

    One of the areas known to be motivating to girls is health, specifically maternal and child health. In poor countries, women are risking their lives every time they have sex. Nearly trivial interventions just in providing information have, in some countries, reduced maternal and infant mortality by 50% or more. Getting into contact with other girls and women is also highly motivating. Both are easily provided using low-cost computers, now that computers + OER cost less than printed textbooks.

    An alternative approach is to provide girls with a translation of the Edna St. Vincent Millay sonnet, Euclid Alone Has Looked on Beauty Bare, and ask them why a woman would say that?


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