This year took unexpected turn and it really affected everyone around the world and almost everything from learning to shopping to schooling to travelling etc. However, it also "opened our eyes" in different ways and changed some of the ways we viewed certain things. These changes also prompted many people and organizations to reconsider virtual way of doing things.
For us at InspireIT, it really reaffirmed what we have always believed that digital skills is one of the gateways to economic empowerment for many girls and women. Also, that technology has great potential for advancing development, reducing poverty, and transforming relationships both personal and professional. Seventy-five percent of our STEM workshops for girls in primary and secondary schools are carried out in schools but this year we had to readjust to other means of reaching out to girls in various communities. To still carry out our training workshops, me and my team had to think of strategic ways to reach out to girls (and boys) who were interested in learning digital and coding skills. Also, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a total lockdown in Nigeria from March to June and the lockdown was only eased on 1st July, so many children were at home not doing anything.
Using Nigeria as an example, I have conducted many STEM workshops in both urban and rural areas. There are myriad of complex underlying challenges (directly and indirectly) from religion to culture to poverty to corruption to lack of education to patriarchy that affect a lot of girls (and women) interested in learning digital skills and pursuing careers in STEM especially in the rural areas. These issues are sometimes interwoven and can be a bit complex. However, from my observation, poverty is still a major underlying challenge for many girls especially those in rural areas as many can barely afford to eat three square meals daily. I also believe that this also affect the ones who manage to acquire digital skills because majority of the time, they find it difficult putting their skills to use especially due to lack of finances to buy a computer or even to pay for transport to attend workshops, seminars, conferences or buy data for online use. The reality that sometimes, women building their careers in STEM fields have to "double their efforts" to be heard and sometimes "being overlooked" even when they are more than qualified for a position often makes some girls feel like "why bother at all?." Many girls in primary and secondary schools, see these things play out in their families and neighborhoods, some read about it in the media and this further discourages them from even trying to pursue a STEM course in the university.
Sometimes, while you are tackling the lacking of digital skills either as an individual or as an organization, you are also thinking about the issue of sustainability considering the high rate of poverty. Eighty percent of the time, many girls in rural areas do not have access to computers/laptops and in some remote areas, there is little or no internet connection and where there is internet connection; eighty-nine percent of the time, it is unstable. In some cases where these girls learn digital skills, they have no laptops/computers at home to practice with neither can they practice at their schools because there are no computers in their schools.