I had always wanted to return to school. When I earned my first degree three decades ago, I was one of the youngest in my class. I had lofty dreams. The world seemed right ahead. However, in my culture like many others, most women are nurtured to aspire to marriage and housekeeping, and I was no exception. My quest for further education became the sacrifice I painfully paid, having tried twice to get a second degree in vain. Nevertheless, the sweet ending is that I eventually found solace in technology.
Basically, I describe myself as being of the paper and analog era. Don’t mind the fact that I once worked as a broadcaster before delving into Public Relations and University Administration. But then, none of these careers was within the blue-chip companies with high-tech facilities that many dream of. Hence, I did not get exposed to the internet as early as I would have desired. Moreover, in an emerging economy, I had to wait for mobile phones, computers, and the internet to get to the reach of the average individual. Additionally, I had lots to joggle domestically. I struggled to find who would teach me how to access the internet or explore the use of a computer. Unfortunately, hoarding knowledge about this new internet world seemed to be the in-thing then, because of the competitive spirit that pervaded my society.
I recall one of the many experiences I had. As the Head of Public Relations of a higher educational institution in my country, I produced a lot of content that needed to be word-processed before circulation. I had a secretary whose job it was to do the typing, but sometimes, I got on the computer myself, which was unusual then. Once in a while, we ran into technical hitches as whatever was being typed would keep deleting while typing. My secretary always had to call on a colleague from another office to help out. Do you know that this colleague of hers held on to that simple knowledge and did not share it? One day, the technological hitch happened again. This time, my secretary was away. So, I had to invite her colleague to help me out. When she came on the desktop, I watched to see what she usually did to solve the issue. Would you believe that this woman used her palm and the rest of her body to block my view of the keyboard, as if she were using an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) for me not to see what she did? When I shared this experience with a companion, he retorted that the knowledge was ‘bought’ and needed to be guarded jealously. This friend just confirmed the systemic knowledge-hoarding attitude that was rife in my community then. You can imagine my excitement much later when I accidentally got to know about the sticky keys and their functions on a keyboard myself.
Of course, I enjoyed the company of myself and began to find that technology and I were a good match. Indeed, knowledge emancipates and empowers. My solitude during regular leisure hours became fruitful as I spent hours upon hours on my laptop. The little knowledge of technology and the use of the internet helped me to discover an avalanche of opportunities. I got admitted to a double degree master’s programme which entailed schooling in the United Kingdom and Lithuania almost three decades after my first degree. Furthermore, I was awarded fellowships by the Netherlands Universities Foundation for International Cooperation (NUFFIC). Finding myself in a classroom simultaneously with colleagues less than half my age was not the challenge but catching up with technology which I initially found daunting, but now truly rewarding. I was determined to learn, so I asked lots of questions. Sometimes, I felt embarrassed to ask and occasionally, repeatedly for me to understand. But I kept asking, kept improving, and kept moving forward digitally. A few colleagues were willing to help, while my own kids-now young adults, were invaluable. Eventually, I found every second worthwhile.
Sadly, the challenge remains for many women, especially from emerging economies. Access to technological education is limited and motivation is low, due to cultural barriers. More women are even at a disadvantage now that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the use of technological tools on the world in a new normal. Even for those with technological knowledge, bandwidth limitations, cost of data, and little or no electricity supply remain a challenge. However, solving these problems begin with ourselves. After all, what does it cost us to share whatever we know or have learnt with others?
I am happy that I got a second chance at education. Now, I ignite the passion for further education in women and youths, by enlightening them about the various opportunities that they could take advantage of with technology. I truly enjoy sharing or imparting any knowledge gained in others. Already, my mentees have begun to reap the rewards of my informal mentorship and advocacy, which I have found very fulfilling. Having earned my double degrees, my mantra is ‘One should never stop learning and sharing’. Hence, during the COVID-19 lockdown, I invested time in personal development through online courses and webinars. I shared as much information as I could about these learning opportunities too, because like the former First Lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama proclaimed, "…we can all rise together, we can all win. We have to be a team of women and girls who love each other and value each other and cherish one another. Because if we don't cherish each other, no one else will."