Tuesday, December 7, 2021
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HomeEDUCATIONClose digital access, skills and online learning gaps for girls in age...

Close digital access, skills and online learning gaps for girls in age of COVID-19

In Summary

  • There are concerns that after COVID-19, 11 millions girls will not return to school.
  • In many countries, the gender digital skills gap is apparent, from simpler tasks such as using apps on a mobile phone, to advanced skills like coding.

Kenyan teacher, Peter Tabichi has joined leading global voices in a letter urging the International community to close digital access, skills and online learning gaps in the age of COVID-19.

Tabichi, the Global Teacher Prize 2019 winner says girls’ education should be prioritised especiialy in the wake of COVID-19.

“I have seen first-hand in my classroom the fantastic things girls can achieve against the odds when they are given the right support and encouragement. To watch girls at my poor rural school go on to win national and international science competitions fills me with such pride,” Tabichi adds.

The open letter, which calls for action to ensure girls have equal access to the technology and digital skills training, and protect and prioritise domestic and international financing for girls’ education amid COVID-19.

This follows the recent “Building the Bandwidth Summit” convened by the Varkey Foundation, UNESCO, and CJ Cultural Foundation.

Digital learning coverage

The letter, whose signatories include Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO, and Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait, comes in response to growing concerns that after COVID-19, 11 million girls may not return to school.

They fear these inequalities are likely to be compounded by shrinking budgets due to the pandemic’s economic devastation.

Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General at UNESCO noted that 43% (706 million) of the world’s learners lack internet access and in sub-Saharan Africa 82% of learners lack internet access.

“The shift to online learning also presents risks for girls with over half of young women and girls globally reporting they have experienced online abuse,” Giannini adds.

Sunny Varkey, Founder of the Global Teacher Prize worries the pandemic will refute progress made in providing accessible education to girls.

“Most importantly, it is vital that we put the teacher’s voice at the heart of our mission. The combined knowledge and experience of teachers from the front line will help the international community answer crucial questions so we can provide inclusive learning opportunities for all children,” Varkey says.

Open Letter

Among the many tragedies the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon the world is its threat to reverse decades of hard-won progress on girls’ education. Before COVID-19, global efforts to get more girls into the classroom had seen 180 million more girls enroll in primary and secondary education since 1995. But now, UNESCO estimates that 11 million girls may not return to school after the pandemic.

The overnight shift to online learning has put girls at a disadvantage in many contexts, due to disparities in both their access to technology and the digital skills needed to use it. More men than women are using the internet in all regions of the world, except for the Americas. In low- and middle-income countries, according to GSMA, women are 7% less likely than men to own a mobile phone and 15% less likely to use mobile internet. Similarly, in many countries, the gender digital skills gap is apparent, from simpler tasks such as using apps on a mobile phone, to advanced skills like coding.

What’s more, the shift to online learning has raised concerns about girls’ safety on the internet. According to the World Wide Web Foundation, 52% of young women and girls around the world report having experienced online abuse, including threatening messages, sexual harassment and the sharing of private images without consent. As a result, many parents and caregivers are limiting girls’ time online.

These inequalities and risks to girls’ education are likely to be compounded by shrinking domestic and international financing budgets in the wake of the pandemic’s economic devastation. UNESCO and the World Bank estimate that external aid for education may fall by $2 billion from 2020 levels.

That is why, following the Building the Bandwidth Summit convened by the Varkey Foundation, UNESCO, and CJ Cultural Foundation, we commit to expanding girls’ access to online learning and digital skills, and call for action by the international community to:

1) Protect and prioritise domestic and international financing for girls’ education post-COVID-19 to safeguard progress, particularly in the poorest countries;

2) Ensure girls have equal access to the technology and resources they need to learn effectively, and ensure safe, empowering spaces for learning – including online;

3) Build digital skills through gender bias-free curricula and teacher capacity to engage all learners equally, addressing unconscious bias in teaching practices;

4) Develop and implement action plans that support girls’ pursuit of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and careers; and

5) Catalyse cooperation between governments, the private sector, civil society, development partners, academia, families and girls to close the gender digital divide.

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