Today’s world is not only a global village, but also very-fast paced, thanks to technology, which keeps on changing every day. Those who are not able to use even a slice of technology are left miles behind, almost in pits of darkness, with limited access to information, opportunities for education, jobs, and skills development. Countless stories are told of how technology; computers, mobile phones, and the internet have become great enablers and catalysts for development, for instance by amplifying people’s voices to hold their governments accountable, communicating some of the pressing challenges they face, as well as accessing opportunities for economic empowerment. Despite the many benefits of technology, women and girls, particularly in rural areas, have limited access to technology, resulting in a growing gender digital divide.
Statistics show that 1.7 billion women do not have access to mobile phones; similarly, many have been left behind in using the internet. Women and girls in Kenya’s rural areas are no different.
I grew up in in a tiny village in rural Kenya, a place that did not know much technology save for radio and TV, none of which we had. I encountered a computer for the very first time at 18, when I moved to the Capital City, in search of a computer college. My sister enrolled me in an informal college to learn basic computer skills. She paid $60 for it. By the time I completed the course after 3 months, I did not know how to type or even search my name on the web!
My story is no different from that of thousands of girls in Kenya’s rural areas, today. While my country has made lots of advancement in technology, particularly mobile phone penetration at over 89% and internet penetration at over 90%, young women and girls have been left far behind in acquiring digital skills that would enable them to meaningfully use technology to access opportunities that can unlock their economic possibilities. Save for a dummy mobile phone, often used by their mothers to communicate and receive money through mobile money transfer services, M-PESA, most girls in secondary schools have never touched and switched on a computer or smartphone. In our research, only 3 out of 15 know what is the internet. Equally, it is extremely rare to find a girl who knows how to navigate the web. In a school with 400 girls, only a handful can claim to have ever interacted with a computer, many do not know what are emails, much less to type anything on a word document. The situation is worse because, in reality, most teachers are equally computer/digital illiterate.
In 2018, after conducting a digital skills needs assessment among girls in Kirinyaga county, Gladys Muthara, Fridah Ndoro, Susan Waruingi, Esther Mugachia, and Wanjiku Karanja embarked on a journey of skilling young people, especially girls in rural day secondary schools, with digital skills. The project dubbed “Digital Literacy for Employability and Entrepreneurship” was designed to offer Basic Digital Skills to in-school girls, Advanced Tech-skills for those interested in progressing and acquiring specialized tech skills that could lead to employment or starting own ventures, as well as the 1 Computer-1 Neighborhood activities, which entail girls training their peers on digital skills, in a village neighborhood setting. The demanding work entails trekking and motorbike rides on dusty, sometimes muddy roads, deep into the rural areas where some of the schools are located.
It is an inspiring journey, often characterized by tears of joy and disbelief, when we see the girls learning, slowly but surely, from the very first day, when they practise how to type their names on a computer in order to gain confidence, to the last day, when they graduate after completing the full course package that entails; introduction to computers, MS- Office, and the Internet. Truly, I have never seen girls as excited and eager to learn as in this initiative!
However, many a times, the joy is only short lived, because we, often, have to turn off children who are so eager to learn, because we cannot accommodate more than 20 in a semester! Our current students to computer ratio, is 4:1 laptop. Some give up along the way and drop out of the class, because they are not able to spend enough time with a computer. All 400 students in one school are interacting with computers for the very first time in their lives! To them, this is an incredibly rare opportunity, and they count themselves very lucky to be able to learn Basic Digital Skills for free. Their parents, who mainly live on less than a $1 a day, may never be able to afford paying for the informal cyber-cafes’ computer packages training.
My colleagues and I, are, however, not giving up. With just 5 laptops and computers coupled with our mobile phones, we are staying put and doing our little thing....helping girls gain skills to access limitless opportunities for education and economic empowerment, while amplifying their voices! While at it, we are appealing to all well wishers, to led a hand by donating a new or used laptop...and that will transform the lives of many!
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples” Mother Teresa
Story by: Gladys Muthara, Kenya
Founder: TAP Africa
A Champion for Girls’ Education and a Youth Economic Empowerment Specialist