Poverty is Sexist: What we can do to get 130 million girls into school

More than 130 million girls did not go to school today – a number so big if it were its own country, it would be the 10th largest in the world. If you started counting these girls from one right now, you wouldn’t reach 130 million until 2023. This is a global crisis and the consequences are dire.

Out of school girls are more likely to become child brides, more vulnerable to diseases like HIV and more likely to die young. Conversely, educating girls and women is a particularly smart investment with far-reaching benefits.

Girls who receive an education have better employment opportunities and their earning potential rises by almost 12% for every additional year of schooling. This helps both the individual as well as her family, community, and country — in fact, the impact of addressing the gender gap in education could yield over $112 billion a year to developing countries.

Photo Credit: Sam Vox

Educating girls can also improve overall health and wellbeing. If every girl completed a primary education in sub-Saharan Africa, maternal mortality could fall by 70% – in part because women with more education tend to have fewer children.

Why, then, are there still more girls out of school than people living in the UK and France combined? Because Poverty is Sexist.


The barriers for girls are manifold and complex, especially in the poorest countries. Here are some of the most challenging:

  • Cost: Even in places where school fees are eliminated, costs for transportation, textbooks or uniforms can be too high to bear, especially for people living in extreme poverty. There can also be indirect costs, as girls who go to school lose out on potential income and spend less time at home, contributing to family tasks or taking care of family members.
  • Cultural Norms and Expectations: Many girls are forced to get married before their fifteenth birthday, give birth and take on household duties. As a result, it may seem less necessary for parents to send their daughters to school.
  • Violence and Security: Parents may also be deterred from sending their girls to school, especially in regions where the commute is not safe and where sexual violence against women and girls is widespread. This is a serious concern: Between 2000 and 2014, violent attacks on girls’ schools occurred three times more often than attacks on boys’ schools.
  • School Environment and Infrastructure: Schools and teachers may not create a gender-sensitive environment. For example, schools may not have separate bathrooms, discouraging girls from attending school during their periods. Furthermore, a lack of gender-sensitive teaching can result in girls being excluded from subjects such as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and can generally create a climate where girls are not encouraged to learn.

But it’s not all doom and gloom – there are solutions and concrete action we can take to make education work for every girl.

Photo Credit: Sam Vox

First, there needs to be a radical shift in the way education is financed. Governments in low- and middle-income countries need to increase domestic budgets for education to 20%, as recommended by the Global Partnership for Education. Countries also need to implement reforms to increase the effectiveness, equitability, and accountability of their education systems and spending.

For donors, this means reversing the trend of declining aid for education, and increasing the share of official development assistance to education. Donors should also prioritize primary and secondary education, paying particular attention to the needs of the most marginalized, including girls, as well as low-income countries and conflict-affected and fragile states. Right now, leaders around the world have an opportunity to put their money where their mouths are by investing in the Global Partnership for Education. The next financing conference to raise $3.1 billion for GPE will take place in Dakar Senegal on 2 February 2018, and will support 65 partner countries to provide quality education for all, and especially the poorest and most vulnerable.

Second, and equally important, all of these efforts must be coordinated and aimed at making education work for every girl.Leaders must commit to implementing a package of reforms that will:

  • Break every barrier to girls’ education, based on in-country assessments.
  • Invest in every teacher, including providing gender sensitivity training.
  • Monitor every outcome, by gathering of accurate, gender-disaggregated data.
  • Connect every classroom to the internet, and adopt relevant technologies.

We won’t end extreme poverty until we break down the barriers holding girls and women back. This is why we at ONE and more than 730,000 people around the world are asking world leaders to fully finance the Global Partnership for Education, and help get the 130 million girls into school. Make your voice count too and sign the petition here.

Article originally appeared here

Educating girls: the key to tackling global poverty

Ensuring girls enter and stay in the classroom is seen as crucial in the fight to eradicate global poverty, so how can obstacles such as child marriage be overcome?

Teenage girls attend a meeting in Dodoma, Tanzania, East Africa.
 The UN’s sustainable development goals call for gender equality and a quality education for all by 2030. Photograph: Alamy

Access to education shouldn’t be determined by a child’s gender, yet 130 million girls globally are out of school and 15 million girls of primary school age will never even enter a classroom.

Educating girls gives them the freedom to make decisions to improve their lives, which has deep social implications. Giving girls access to schooling is a central part of eradicating global poverty, according to the World Bank, which says better educated women tend to be healthier, participate more in formal labour markets, have fewer children and marry later. The UN’s sustainable development goals call for gender equality and a quality education for all by 2030. So what action needs to be taken to overcome the complex global barriers to not only getting girls into school but also providing them with a meaningful education?

These questions were tackled by a panel of experts from the non-profit, academic and private sectors, at a Guardian roundtable event in New York, chaired by Guardian journalist Anna Leach and supported by anti-poverty NGO Opportunity International.

Child marriage

A key obstacle to girls participating in school life is child marriage. Every year 15 million girls under the age of 18 are married.

The reasons for child marriage and a lack of education for girls are complex and interlinked, said Heather Hamilton, deputy executive of Girls not Brides. “Both come from the base view of girls as not as valuable as boys,” said Hamilton. “If we don’t have local values changing, and support girls as valuable people in their own right … we’re not going to see the shift in outcomes,” she added.

One project looking to tackle this is Girl Effect’s Yegna, an initiative using music and radio to spread awareness of girls’ rights in Ethiopia. It recently tackled child marriage through a radio drama. Research in the Addis Ababa and Amhara regions of the country found that while 53% of boys not aware of Yegna said they would report instances of child marriage, this jumped to 95% among boys who listened to the show. It’s not action taken yet, admitted Natalie Au, global gender director of Girl Effect, but it’s “an initial first step”.

While child marriage has cultural roots, poverty plays a huge role, said Dolores Dixon, executive director in Canada for Camfed, a non-profit working in African countries to support the education of marginalised girls. “Parents who can afford it would not necessarily hold back their children from going to school,” said Dixon, “but if you can’t afford it you will then have to make a choice … they feel [marriage] is the best option within the limited options.”

Young women who have been through Camfed’s education programme, who themselves may have faced child marriage, can be important advocates, said Dixon. “Communities can relate to the examples and their experiences and they can also see role models in front of them,” said Dixon.

Engaging these communities must be done sensitively. “It’s not trying to turn everything upside down, because you will immediately face resistance,” said Eva Halper, director of corporate citizenship at Credit Suisse, “it’s finding the right way to approach those challenges from the bottom up.”

Halper referred to a project run by education non-profit Room to Read in Tanzania. Girls in some communities there undergo lengthy initiation ceremonies when they reach puberty, after which they are considered adults able to work or marry. Room to Read’s approach with the community, said Halper, “is not to say: ‘Stop these initiation ceremonies – you can’t do that’ … but to reach a compromise of please delay it.”

Menstrual health management

The onset of menstruation is another key pressure point for girls’ schooling, especially in the developing world. A lack of gender separate bathrooms, no access to sanitary products, teasing from classmates, unsupportive teachers – all can disrupt a girl’s ability to participate in school.

“There is shame, there’s fear, there’s embarrassment,” said Marni Sommer, associate professor in sociomedical sciences at Columbia University. “I’ve been in countries where girls thought if they told anybody [they were menstruating] they’d die.” Sommer helped develop puberty books in Ghana and Ethiopia for girls to understand what’s happening to their bodies, while also building literacy.

Columbia University and Unicef joined forces in 2014 to map out a 10-year agenda for menstrual health management (MHM), to help girls to manage their periods in school “in a comfortable, safe and dignified way”. One of its achievements is to include MHM in all of Unicef’s school Wash (water, sanitation and hygiene) programmes across 48 countries.

The project’s inclusion of the private sector, social entrepreneurs, donors, researchers and governments has been key to its successes, said Nora Fyles, director of the secretariat for the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI): “This is actually a story of how to do advocacy and come up with an agreement of what is reasonable in 10 years to achieve.”

The value of working with different sectors was emphasised by Halla Holmarsdottir, vice-dean, Faculty of Education and International Studies, Oslo and Akershus University: “So often in education we talk to ourselves and there is such a need to talk cross-sector.”

India, for example, has had a policy on MHM since 2013, said Archana Patkar, programme manager at the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), but through the ministry of water and sanitation, not health or education.

And we mustn’t forget the role of men and boys when it comes to menstruation, added Patkar. Men in the governments of countries in Africa and south Asia, where WSSCC works, have been some of their biggest champions. “If you can actually talk about it with men and women, girls and boys, and replace that stigma, the silence and shame, with information and therefore dignity and pride … this gives us an opportunity to really open up the space for conversations.”

Once girls are in formal education, said Au, “that’s better than being out of school, but what’s that actual educational journey like for them?”

Keeping girls safe in school

Part of ensuring the education environment benefits girls is about making schools safe, supportive learning spaces. “Gender-based violence in and around school is a reality,” said Fyles. The international education sector has spent so long trying to get children into school, especially in the developing world, only to realise girls are facing dangers there, she added. “[Girls] don’t think about learning when they’re trying to figure out what the next exit is or whether they can go to the toilet and be safe.”

The global community has recognised the issue, said Fyles. The UN, for example, has included a commitment to address gender-based violence in its Education 2030 initiative.

“We know that there are some really, really negative experiences around school”, said Bourne, who referred to a report that revealed female university students in Liberia were often harassed and pressured into “sex for grades” – where lecturers pressure students to perform sexual acts in return for good grades cards or passing assignments. “But we also need to remember that schools are also really powerful places to help challenge some of the gender norms and some of the social norms that we see around.”

Part of that puzzle is providing teachers with the right training. “Teachers have their own agenda, their own experiences,” said Holmarsdottir.

She described a school in South Africa where students had chosen a girl as head prefect only to be overruled by teachers who decided it was a boy’s job. Teachers need to say to girls: “We do see that you have a role to play, we do want you to continue on, you are important,” said Holmarsdottir.

More creativity is needed when considering how to reach girls in remote communities, such as in northern Nigeria, who simply cannot access formal education, said Au. “It’s not just bums on seats in schools; we need to be a bit more innovative and progressive about how we go to where the girls are while also getting them into formal processes.”

For Girl Effect this meant a project giving girls in northern Nigeria mobile phones to access stories on topics such as safety, relationships and friendships as well as connecting them with trained mentors. “It’s a very alternative way for girls to be able to access information and explore their curiosities about growing up,” she said.

Life skills such as communication, persistence and negotiation, also have a role to play, said Heather Simpson, chief programme officer of Room to Read. But it’s an area often overlooked by ministries of education, she added. The Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) in Malawi is one organisation implementing life-skills education with women mentors, who are also providing menstrual pads. “This is the kind of really integrated approach that we need to be supporting,” said Hamilton.

“Girls are central to the global poverty story,” said Dana Rice, managing director of philanthropy for Opportunity International. But change will be held back until there is a shift in cultural ideas of what a girl is. “It’s about how girls value themselves, the voice that they have to articulate what they think, and communities really valuing them as contributors to their own development,” said Au.

Article originally appeared here.

Young African women turn to coding

Software developers at Andela’s Nigeria headquarters in Lagos. Photo: Andela/Rotimi Okungbaye
Software developers at Andela’s Nigeria headquarters in Lagos. Photo: Andela/Rotimi Okungbaye

At Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Angela Koranteng was an accomplished student with a special dream. At a time when few women were breaking the gender barrier in male-dominated studies, Ms. Koranteng had her heart set on health sciences—but instead of treating patients, she wanted to be an engineer and build hospitals.

After a round of courses in computer programming, civil engineering and coding, Ms. Koranteng today has earned a degree and a title: professional African coder.

Coding is what makes it possible to create computer software, apps and websites. Your browser, your operating system, the apps on your phone, Facebook, and websites—they’re all made with code. Coding can be learned at a university or boot camp.

Because boys are exposed to technical matters in childhood and girls are not, few young African women imagine themselves on a career track in engineering.

Not just a man’s field

In college, “I learned everything from scratch, whereas the boys already knew the basics,” Ms. Koranteng told Africa Renewal in an interview. That disadvantage ensured that “my contributions [in class] were deemed less intelligent than those of my male counterparts.”

Even Ms. Koranteng’s father was not sure that a path in coding was good for her. “He didn’t know that coding would become one of the most in-demand skills across industries,” she explained.

Today Ms. Koranteng works with a group called STEMbees, a Ghana-based nonprofit organization she helped to found, which mentors young women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Ms. Koranteng hopes that more girls in STEM will help bridge the gender gap in computing.

Unfortunately, training in STEM still attracts fewer women students than training in teaching, law, medicine or business.

Karen Spärck Jones, a professor of computers and information at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory in the UK, once said that “computing is too important to be left to men.”

But even in the most developed countries, the computer field is disproportionately dominated by men. In 2013 in the US, only 26% of computing professionals were female—down considerably from 35% in 1990 and virtually the same as in 1960. While the percentage of women in engineering has risen since 1990, the progress has been modest—from 9% in 1990 to 12% in 2013.

A 2012 US Department of Labor survey reported that women in the US comprised 30% of web developers, 25% of programmers, 37% of database administrators, 20% of software developers, and a little over 10% of information security analysts. Women also held less than 20% of chief information officer positions at Fortune 250 companies, and among the Fortune 100 tech companies, only four women held chief executive officer positions. At tech giants like Google, over 70% of technical employees were men.

Lacking reliable data, Ms. Koranteng presumes Africa’s situation to be far worse than that of the US. In the bustling Computer Village in Lagos, Nigeria, for example, it is mostly young men developing apps or engaging in other computing work, Caleb Ibhasabemon, who monitors technology trends and plans to start a computer hardware sales company, told Africa Renewal in an interview.

Despite the growth of Internet usage in Africa over the last decade, about 10% of the continent has access to the Internet, according to a 2017 report by Internet World Stats, an organization that monitors global Internet usage. Low Internet diffusion on the continent is certain to impede efforts by Africans, especially girls, to become coding professionals.

Ms. Tesfamichael told Africa Renewal: “I have faced many challenges in my journey as an African woman coder. I was once told that girls can’t code. I did not let any of those words discourage me. I love tech, and I love solving problems.”

A Lagos-based tech company Andela is training engineering teams, including coders, to fill the gap in tech talent in Africa. “We have nearly 30% of women out of more than 600 developers based in Lagos, Nairobi and Kampala,” says Christine Magee, Andela’s director of communications.

Another success story is Ghana’s Ethel Cofie, whom Forbes business magazine calls one of the top five women affecting IT on the continent. She is the founder and CEO of EDEL Technology Consulting, a company that provides IT and software services for businesses.

Technology and GDP growth

Ms. Cofie studied computer science during the dot-com period (1995 to 2001) and took advantage of Africa’s emerging market to invest in technology, according to reports by the BBC and CNN. To promote diversity in the computer programming industry, particularly to “encourage African girls to get involved,” she founded Women in Tech Africa.

Many budding female techies from around the continent consider Ms. Cofie a role model.

“Computer programming is one of the world’s most in-demand skills,” and African girls must seize the opportunity, says Ms. Cofie.

Similar sentiments have been voiced at the World Economic Forum (WEF), a Geneva-based nonprofit that meets annually and bills itself as committed to public-private cooperation.

Information technology helps create new businesses in digital marketing, data sciences, and mobile money ecosystems, among others. In 2017, revenues for information technology products and services are forecast to reach $2.4 trillion, a 3.5% increase over 2016, reports International Data Corporation (IDC), which provides market intelligence for information technology, telecommunications and consumer technology markets. IDC adds that the figure could be $2.6 trillion by 2020.

Statistics by WEF also show that a 10% increase in broadband penetration can lead to a 1.4% increase in GDP growth in emerging markets. The GDP growth numbers can be seen in countries adopting mobile money or other technologies that facilitate financial transactions, for example.

Already top tech companies such as Facebook and Google are providing technical and financial support to institutions creating opportunities for African girls learning how to code.

AWELE Academy, a leadership and technology institution based in Lagos, is one of the schools receiving external support for its attempts to close the coding gap in Africa. But it can accept only 20 students at a time—a feeble effort at best.

Technology institutions are working to increase awareness about computer programming through local conferences where girls meet role models to discuss career prospects.

Gender equality enthusiasts are optimistic that the increase in women coders will help close the gender wage inequality gap in Africa. The next few years could witness more African women falling in love with coding, earning decent wages and transforming their countries’ economies, predicts Ms. Tesfamichael.

Article originally appeared here

How Tanzania is betting on coding to help close the gender gap in its tech sector

Teenagers coding at the Apps & Girls offices in Dar es Salaam.
Teenagers coding at the Apps & Girls offices in Dar es Salaam.

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Every Saturday morning Hyasinta Luhanga, 18, squeezes into a room in the Majumba Sita neighborhoodnear Dar es Salaam’s international airport with more than two dozen girls. They’re there to learn how to code.

Luhanga is a participant in a program by social enterprise Apps & Girls, which aims to train future female programmers, and in doing so, hopefully close the gender gap in the nation’s technology industry. Even though almost equal (pdf) numbers of women and men enroll for science and technology courses in Tanzania, the unemployment rate of women in the field is more than twice that of men, recent research by the government shows.

This mimics global trends. Even nations that have dramatically closed gender gaps in education and labor force participation have struggled (pdf) to increase women’s participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. For instance, women hold about 26% of computer and mathematical jobs in the US, slightly below the level in 1960. For a country like Tanzania, which has a promising, budding tech industry, solving this problem could be vital to its future.

Luhanga first joined the coding classes through an after-school club activity organized by A&G at her secondary school. With a keen interest in math and science, and ambitions to own her own start-up, she figured the program was a great way to pursue a career in the tech sector. With no computer at home, she now goes to the center every evening to practice, workshop ideas, review data, and design with three other teammates.

The teenage girls who participate in Apps & Girls come from all over Dar and are from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Since its launch in 2013, A&G has taught more than 1,900 girls web programming and how to build smartphone apps. Since the organization also acts as an incubator, participants are mentored on how to create a business plan and how to pitch to potential partners. They are also connected to possible funding and employment opportunities.

Brainstorming session

Coding has become the new lingua franca of the digital age, taught by schools and non-profit organizations across the world. These efforts have been magnified as automation and artificial intelligence look to dramatically change the nature of jobs. In Africa, where there’s a new discussion over how to create meaningful, large-scale employment for its fast-growing, young population, coding is increasingly seen as an important skill to have.

For girls and women in Africa, who face exploitation, lower job security, and are largely excluded from the formal sector, coding offers them a promising way into a nascent industry. Female-focused coding programs have sprung up across Africa: from Botswana (The Clicking Generation), Madagascar (Django Girls), Cameroon (Genius Centers), to South Africa (Girlhype), Rwanda (Digital Opportunity Trust), and Kenya (Moringa School). In Tanzania, programs like She Codes for ChangeBuni DivazBRAC, and TechChix have launched over the years.

Yet the buzz over coding programs in Tanzania—and in many African countries—belies some of the infrastructural and labor issues facing the female populace. For over a decade, Tanzania has sustained a relatively high economic growth of 6 to 7% a year, according to the World Bank. Yet high population growth and increasing urbanization have left 12 million Tanzanians living in extreme poverty, even as 800,000 young people enter the labor force annually.

Gender disparities persist too, with women accounting for the highest proportion of people who have never attended school at all, according to the Tanzania National Bureau of Statistics. Women were also least likely to be employed in the formal economy, whether in the public or private sectors.

Tanzania’s tech ecosystem isn’t as advanced as in KenyaNigeria, or South Africa. The East African nation has just one tech hub, Buni, and the internet penetration among its 54 million people stands at a paltry 13% as of 2016.

Many organizations like Apps & Girls face shortage of funding for both equipment and space

An optimistic view, one held by Apps & Girls founder Carolyne Ekyarisiima, is that these deficiencies could act as a catalyst. Big cities like Dar, Mwanza, or Dodoma have a lot of needs, and innovators could help create accessible solutions in sectors as diverse as water and energy supply, healthcare, and waste management, says Ekyarisiima. For young girls, learning to code early can also help develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as confidence.

“We believe that if women or girls have those digital skills then they stand [a] bigger chance of being independent and having their voice being heard,” Ekyarisiima said.

Elham Mohamed, 18, takes two buses every day across the traffic-clogged streets of Dar to reach A&G’s offices. The coding classes, she said, gave her “a chance to change” and “question every aspect of my life.” Many girls her age, she lamented, “live as if the internet doesn’t exist.” Teaching young girls to code, she adds, can help them challenge traditional gender roles and make some parents even reassess whether marriage is a girl’s best option.

Structural challenges

To help boost the overall tech sector, the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) has been researching how to create incentives for invention and innovation for both enthusiasts and financiers. Besides its advisory role, the commission also hosts the Buni Hub in its offices. The space has helped kickstart some of the country’s top start-ups, including e-book distribution service HadithiApp and school management system ScholarDream.

Hyasinta Luhinga, 18, at the Girls Entrepreneurship Summit in Dar es Salaam

Magreth Mushi, who works with the commission’s research arm, says this direct engagement with developers can help address some of the structural problems facing girls in tech. The shortage of women in technology, she said, isn’t about lack of talent but about the plethora of factors that discourage them at home, at school, and in the workplace. One way to address this: Increasing connectivity and digital literacy. Mushi is also a board member of the Get More Active Girls in Computing (GetMAGIC), a global non-profit that exposes middle and high school girls to various STEM disciplines.

“The way it’s advertised, the internet is all about social media,” she said. Many people don’t see the internet “as a powerful tool that can bring change in the community.”

Apps & Girls’ protégés have been able to skirt some of these challenges, designing platforms that enable students to borrow and buy books at affordable prices, report sexual harassment on public transportation, and receive health and social education. Their work has been nominated for prestigious awards like the Anzisha Prize for young entrepreneurs.

Ekyarisiima says that to replicate this success effectively in and out of urban centers, they will need more funding. The organization currently lacks funding for both equipment and space, and the schools they work with cannot provide them with as many computers as they need.

Before expanding, they also want to standardize their coding curriculum and translate it from English to Swahili. A&G is currently working with the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Social Innovation and Enterprise to improve their business strategy and tap more sources of funding. Eventually, the UNH support is set to help A&G scale up the program to reach thousands across Africa by franchising its coding modules.

Carolyne Ekyarisiima inspecting the mobile app developed by one of the young coders at the Entrepreneurship Summit.

‘Yes we can’

Last November, Luhanga joined almost 40 girls at the National Central Library in downtown Dar es Salaam, as part of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. The participants came from 10 secondary schools to present their ideas and compete for whose idea was most innovative, and with the most potential for social impact.

The two-day event was a vivid display of the culmination of months of preparation. Decked in their school uniforms, young girls tested apps on their phones, tweaked their ideas, and polished their presentations. Mentors, diplomats, and government officials arrived, and during an interlude, the students all got up and sang Nas’s “I Know I Can.”

At the event, Luhanga and her teammates proposed an app which would link households experiencing water shortageswith vendors willing to supply them at any given time. During brainstorming sessions in the lead up to the competition, the girls had discussed how they would go about enlisting vendors and clients if they should demand clearance certificates from suppliers for safety reasons, and how much they should charge.

To their dismay, Luhanga’s team was not one of the top three winners. Noting their disappointment, Ekyarisiima told the girls it was important to be cognizant of their learning curve and put more effort into their projects. “We need to keep believing in what we really want to do,” she told the girls.

Afterwards, a teary-eyed Luhanga said she wasn’t happy with how things worked out. She wanted to win to prove to friends and family why the coding classes were crucial in her life.

However, she described how the meet-ups with hercoding group reminded her that technology was an enabler and that coding, coupled with hard work and passion, could help her lead a better life. “You can really grow your mind with coding,” she said. “I love it.”

This story was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through the Innovation in Development Reporting grants’ program, a media-funding project operated by the European Journalism Center. 

Article originally appeared here

In Nigeria, a push for coding in schools

A primary school pupil using KEA coloring software. Photo by: Linus Unah

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria — On a chilly Friday morning last November, Chinyere Anyaji stood behind a lectern in a dimly illuminated hall packed with hundreds of students of the Titare Star Academy in the southern Nigerian city of Port Harcourt.

“How many of you here use Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat?” Anyaji asked the students. Hands went up.

“How many of you have seen Captain America in the Marvel movies?” Students murmured and nodded.

Then she continued: “I can teach you how to make animated movies and apps if you join our coding clubs.”

For two years now, Anyaji, business development manager of the social enterprise Teencoders, has been visiting schools in the oil hub city of Port Harcourt to preach the benefits of computer programming skills to public and private school students.

Founder Aniete Etuk, a computer science teacher, started Teencoders in 2013 to offer programming classes to private school students. Four years later, the organization partnered with the state government — which provides schools with desktop computers — to enable the instructors to help students in public primary and secondary schools, particularly those in low-income, remote communities.

Today, its 16 trained instructors meet weekly with about 300 students in public schools in Port Harcourt in Rivers state — a figure they are hoping to grow to 1 million students across four states in the next three years. The initiative, known as #CodeForSchoolsNG is designed to teach students how to create desktop apps and software; build websites and mobile apps; and design 3D games and 3D animated cartoons and stories — skills many believe will be crucial as the economy goes increasingly digital.

Although the standard curriculum in Nigeria includes computer science or ICT from elementary school on, most public schools are unable to afford adequate equipment or instruction. Students often face a range of shortcomings that impede their computer skills, including lack of furniture in classrooms, inadequate instruction materials, lack of experienced and competent teachers, poorly-equipped computer labs, and dilapidated school buildings.

Teencoders estimates that the 100-plus public schools in Rivers state have about 30 computers each, but most of these computers are underutilized and left to collect dust in the majority of schools. To get more funding for the #CodeForSchoolsNG initiative, Teencoders decided to involve more NGOs and private and corporate donors to sponsor an entire school or a number of students from a school. So far, an additional 30 students from public schools are being sponsored to receive free training in programming and animations.

TechQuest, a similar nonprofit that operates out of Nigeria’s largest city of Lagos, teaches robotics; web design and development; animation; and game design to school children aged 6-16 in public and private schools in Nigeria. Since 2016, it has been collaborating with the Lagos Mainland local council to train kids in public schools for free. As of October 2018, some 1,400 school children around the Ebute-Metta district have benefited from this partnership.

As part of its Jobs for Youth in Africa initiative, AfDB’s Coding for Employment Program will target youth aged 16-35, introducing ICT skills training for today’s digitally-driven workforce.

Last October, TechQuest commenced #TeachAKid2Code, a free eight-week coding program for primary and secondary schools. The program was part of Africa Code Week, an initiative of German-based software manufacturer SAP SE, which is building coding skills in young Africans across 36 African countries with support from several partners, including Google.

Through #TeachAKid2Code, TechQuest recruited about 300 local volunteers to train 5,200 kids across several states.

Chinyere Anyaji (left) discussing with two Teencoders instructors or mentors after a visit to a school. Photo by: Linus Unah

Tomorrow’s jobs

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is expected to usher in a transformation that will have a radical impact on job creation, particularly white collar jobs such as routine office and administrative roles.

It is expected to alter jobs as much as it will create new ones, and make some skills such as data analysis, even more relevant.

Some 2 million jobs are expected to come from the computer, mathematical, architecture, and engineering fields, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2018 report.

WEF’s 2017 briefing notes that by 2025, some 1.9 million jobs and $20 billion in additional GDP will accrue to Nigeria as technology continues to offer people new opportunities to engage in online platform work and transition from informal to formal jobs. The briefing further predicts that 46 percent of all work activities in Nigeria are susceptible to automation.

“It is important that students are learning computer programming because they will be able to go into school and come out better prepared to face real-life situations,” said 16-year-old Onuma Emeaba, a student at Shalom Academy in Port Harcourt, one of the 56 private schools where Teencoders runs a paid coding program.

It seems there is no better time to equip young people with skills and competencies that would enable them to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is little wonder therefore that several NGOs and social enterprises are springing up in major cities with coding programs targeting different groups of learners.

The Pearls Africa Foundation, a nonprofit located in the Yaba district of Lagos, has a girls’ coding program, which offers free classes in user interface design, animation, and programming to girls mostly from informal urban settlements and underserved communities. Another nonprofit, Teens Can Code offers free coding classes, workshops, and after-school programs to students aged between 9-20 in low-income communities throughout Nigeria.

Even the Lagos state government doesn’t want students in the megacity to be left out. In May 2017, the Lagos State Ministry of Education kicked off CodeLagos to teach students in primary and secondary schools how to code. Teachers, known as facilitators, are recruited from schools to train students and classes run for up to an hour every day.

In November 2017, state authorities created out-of-school centers to expand the free program to reach other residents in the city, especially those from low-income and underrepresented communities.

For children with disabilities in Nigeria, educational opportunities remain scant

In Nigeria, which has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world, discovering the percentage of those with learning disabilities is next to impossible. A handful of NGOs are seeking to fill the gap.

Some 46 out-of-school centers allow residents who are 16 years and above and not enrolled in any formal school to take a six-week training in Python, Java, and HTML programming languages as well as blockchain technology. So far, more than 20,000 Lagosians have been trained in these centers.

As of the end of 2018, the CodeLagos program was running in 648 primary and secondary schools, 226 of which are public schools.

A new breed of problem solvers

As part of the CodeLagos program, state authorities also organize competitions for students to use technology to address problems in several sectors, including health, education, transportation, environment, and finance.

The Lagos state government, which is aiming to teach 1 million Lagosians to code, is collaborating with tech companies, nonprofits, and private and corporate donors to provide equipment and regular training for 1,081 facilitators who receive periodical stipends.

TechQuest, too, is working to build more coding clubs in schools and increase its pool of volunteers. It wants to reach 1 million young Africans before the end of next year using community programs and partnerships with corporate and private bodies.

The bigger goal, for Teencoders, is to get the state government to include coding into the curriculum and to create a special fund to promote coding in public schools before the end of 2019.

In addition, its #CodeForSchoolsNG initiative is aiming to also reach 1,000 schools before the end of the year. It also hopes to make coding books available to these learners and train at least 250 teachers. To achieve this goal, it is reaching out to many more corporate and private donors to get funding to scale the project.

“We would not stop until we are able to help children, especially those in low-income communities and remote villages to learn how to code,” Teencoders’ Anyaji said.

Article originally appeared here

African girls have what it takes to drive technology: Girls in ICT Day 2017

Over 230 eager, energetic and tech-savvy high-school girls filled the conference room at the African Union Commission, in Addis Ababa, for the celebration of 2017 Girls in ICT Day. The event was led by International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in partnership with the African Union Commission, UNECA, UNDP, UN Women and the private sector. The day was marked by several activities, including mobile and SMS competitions and a UN Women moderated panel discussion featuring inspirational women, who change lives and whose lives have been changed by and through ICT.

The panel discussion prompted a reflection on the potential of ICTs for girls’ personal growth and empowerment as well as on overcoming the gaps in access and use of ICTs. The panelists enthusiastically encouraged the girls at the event, arguing that since they are amongst the minority in the ICT field, they need to see it as an opportunity, to never give up, be balanced, and learn to push back. One of the panelist, Mrs. Yetnebersh Nigussie, an articulate, visually impaired human rights activist moved the youth by claiming “ICT is my justice, my best equalizer.” She discussed the contribution of ICT in her life such as opening international job opportunities without the need for travelling.  The panelists also raised the need to create networks and social circles, “they will only be as strong as they stand up for each other” Nigussie said. Another important lesson shared was the importance of developing one’s emotional intelligence – knowing oneself, believing in oneself and having self-worth, in whatever they do.

Girls in ICT

UN Women staff with some of the participants at the of “Girls in ICT Day” event \Photo Credit: UN Women

In her opening remarks, UN Women representative to Ethiopia, the AUC and UNECA, Mrs. Letty Chiwara highlighted that although ICT, STEM and innovation in general are brining transformation in our lives, there are by far very few women and girls who are leaders in this area of science and technology, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.  She therefore called up on the young girls to use technology to change the world and to become innovators of tomorrow, “Africa has all it takes to drive technology, not only for Africa but also the whole world”. Letty further expressed UN Women’s commitment to continue its partnership with ITU in developing a joint continental program that will ensure that young girls of Africa will be leaders in ICT.

The International Girls in ICT day, which is a global initiative celebrated on the 4th Thursday of April every year, aims at encouraging and empowering young girls to see ICT as a potential career path. The Africa Regional Director of ITU, Mr. Andrew Rugged, shared that over 72,000 girls were part of this year’s celebrations worldwide. Rugged revealed that ever since the launching of the partnership between UN Women and ITU in 2016 for the “Equals initiative”, both organizations have worked relentlessly to change social perceptions that ICT is only for one gender. He called upon partners – not only UN agencies and countries but also private sector to give young girls jobs, training and capacity building opportunities as well as encourage them to become creative.

Article originally appeared here.

Technology is a liberating force for African women

Yetunde Sanni co-founded Tech in Pink, an organisation that teaches young girls how to code.
Yetunde Sanni co-founded Tech in Pink, an organisation that teaches young girls how to code.

As ride-hailing apps proliferate the globe, the year-old An Nisa Taxi in Kenya is one of the standouts in Africa.

Developed by 33-year-old Mehnaz Sarwar, An Nisa is run by women and serves female passengers and children exclusively.

Ms. Sarwar sought to overcome two obstacles: limited job opportunities for women in a male-dominated industry and the reluctance of women to hail taxis, because physical abuse from drivers—including sexual abuse—is known to take place.

“An Nisa Taxi’s priority is to offer safe, reliable, and trustworthy drivers, whether it’s taking you home after a night out, starting your day with a ride to work, or picking up your children after school,” the company states on its website.

In an article for Quartz, an online business publication, journalist Osman Mohamed Osman observes: “Unlike others in the market, which collect 25% of the driver’s earnings, An Nisa charges just 10% of what the drivers earn from trips.” Mr. Osman quotes Ms. Sarwar as saying she wanted to empower women who need “financial freedom.”

New possibilities

An Nisa’s successful launch demonstrates the possibilities new technologies offer African women in male-dominated industries. It also conveys a new ethos regarding how earnings are distributed and shows how services can be deployed to address important needs of women—safety in this case.

In Uganda, Brenda Katwesigye, a graduate of Makerere University, founded Wazi Vision, a company that provides eye-testing services and glasses. Ten percent of the money paid for each pair purchased online or through direct sales channels goes to helping a child in need acquire a pair of glasses. “To make this possible, we go directly to our communities, perform eye-testing exercises and give away eyeglasses to children whose parents cannot afford them,” says Ms. Katwesigye.

The glasses, made from recycled plastic, are designed in Uganda and manufactured in Switzerland.

A virtual reality testing kit brings eye testing to communities that do not have optometrists or access to affordable eye-care services.

The company’s operations reflect the sensibilities of female innovators as well as their concern for the environment, children and women. Wazi Vision’s glasses cost 80% less than similar competing products.

Turning to Nigeria, Chika Madubuko identified another vital service, that of caring for the elderly—a stressful and time-consuming task that African women are traditionally expected to perform for their family members.

Madubuko’s Greymate Care is an online platform with over 500 experienced and vetted caregivers and 130 doctors and nurses. Services for the elderly are easily booked on the company’s website, freeing up time for women to concentrate on their work and earn an income. The company uses GPS to monitor the movements of staff in the field.

Ms. Madubuko expects the company to grow beyond her country and to provide thousands of jobs on the continent in the future.

Nigeria needs about 1.8 million pints of blood every year, but its Ministry of Health can only collect 500,000 pints. LifeBank’s intervention is timely, reports Nigeria’s The Guardian newspaper.  The company has 40 blood banks and services 300 hospitals. Blood boxes delivered by riders can only be opened by recipients via a preset Bluetooth connection.

“We’re like Amazon for blood banks,” Ms. Giwa-Tubosun says. “Once we have their order, we deploy it where it’s needed, using motorbikes and trucks.” Since 2015, LifeBank has delivered 11,000 pints and saved at least 2,500 lives. Ms. Giwa-Tubosun has already expanded into oxygen delivery and hopes to add vaccines and antivenins.

In nearby Ghana, social entrepreneur Josephine Marie Godwyll is on a mission to bring engaging learning experiences to children, especially those in rural communities. Her company, Young at Heart Ghana, uses digital platforms to create such experiences.

The company has engaged over 5,000 children since 2013 through information and communication technology (ICT) outreaches and learning hubs, digital learning clubs, fairs and e-learning platforms.

Social media

Finally, social media has become a launchpad for successful initiatives led by women. Temraza Haute Couture is an award-winning Egyptian fashion house specializing in handmade evening and bridal dresses. Farida Temraza, CEO and designer in chief, has successfully used Facebook advertising to promote her company’s brand internationally.

Temraza Haute Couture’s video ads have gained thousands of views, enough to drive thousands of clients to her website. Her sales increased by 55% in six months.

Nigerian-American activist Lola Omolola founded Female IN (FIN), a private Facebook group that acts as a support network for women worldwide, shares stories of domestic violence, sexual assault and other issues. Popular posts often get as many as half a million views.

Ms. Omolola started FIN in 2014 when nearly 300 girls were kidnapped from a boarding school in Chibok, northeastern Nigeria, by the Boko Haram militant group, triggering the global #BringBackOurGirls campaign. The group currently has about 1.7 million members.

Equally notable is what Christine Anyumel is doing with the Facebook group Healing Naturally Together (HNT), which she started to encourage Ugandan women to adopt a healthier, more natural and more sustainable lifestyle. HNT is a vibrant group of herbal medicine enthusiasts who use natural remedies for health conditions, especially reproductive challenges such as infertility, fibroids and obesity.

The group is nearing 600,000 members from all over the world, and provides business opportunities for members to, for example, sell natural juices and organic foods to other members.

Natural remedies have no shortage of critics, and Ms. Anyumel and HNT have endured their fair share of pushback. But she is not throwing in the towel. HNT has now grown into a company that makes homeopathic remedies and organic foods.

In South Africa, home and room rentals app Airbnb has proved a boon for many women hosts, giving an especially welcome financial boost to single mothers, according to recent statistics released by the online booking platform.

“The typical woman host in South Africa earned nearly $2,000 (R25,917.10) last year, more income than earned by the typical women hosts in other countries,” Airbnb reported.

The company added that, “More than 60% of women hosts in South Africa are Superhosts—hosts who are specially designated by Airbnb as hosting guests frequently, receiving a high number of five-star reviews, and being exceptionally responsive to guests.”

In Kenya, Airbnb is providing women with a new way to earn money and build businesses. A report by the platform coinciding with International Women’s Day on March 8, 2018 showed Kenyan women Airbnb entrepreneurs earning about one-third of their annual household expenditure from the platform and using such earnings to start their own businesses.

The top five countries for women Airbnb hosts among the 14 surveyed were Kenya—where women earned 34% of average household expenditure via Airbnb—India at 31%, Morocco at 20%, China at 19% and Japan at 15%.

All these platforms and innovations showcase   how technology can break up the male monopoly over access to the market and society. Clearly modern technology has the potential to be a force for equality.

Article originally published here

When Getting Girls in School Isn’t Enough

Throughout October Women Deliver has been focusing on education, and the importance of looking beyond the classroom when it comes to making sure quality education is available to all. We were lucky enough to talk to Aya Kibesaki, Senior Education Specialist at the Global Partnership for Education about data, marginalized populations, and her experience at the country level.  The Global Partnership for Education works to bring together developing countries, donors, international organizations, civil society, teacher organizations, the private sector and philanthropy to improve learning and equity through stronger education systems.

Women Deliver: Based on your experience working at the country level, can you talk to the reasons why so many girls remain out of school? What isn’t working in the way we have been approaching the problem?

Aya Kibesaki: First of all, we should acknowledge the enormous progress that has been made; many more girls are in school now, compared to 10-20 years ago. There are more schools, more teachers, more textbooks, more separate toilets and more girls in school now than ever before. However, it is true that many girls are still out of school, especially the more disadvantaged girls – girls in poorest countries, girls from poor households, those in remote communities, those from certain ethnic/language groups, those with disabilities, and those in conflict-affected areas. Boys from these groups are also disadvantaged, but girls often bear an additional burden due to their gender and the impact on them of the cultural and social norms in their communities.

Women Deliver: So what are the solutions? Can you give a few examples of successful interventions that have led to getting more girls in school, and staying in school?

Aya Kibesaki: In many countries, the elimination of school fees have seemed to contribute to getting more girls and boys to school. In countries like Afghanistan, they have recruited female teachers and set up schools for girls that are culturally acceptable. Some countries have trained teachers in gender-sensitive learning, and have revised the curriculum to move away from traditional gender roles. Studies show that combined interventions, such as conditional cash transfers plus teacher training, can be particularly fruitful.

In Guinea, in some regions they organized support classes in French, math and reproductive health for disadvantaged fifth and sixth grade girls, and their teachers. These girls were found to have a much higher secondary admission rate than girls from other regions. In Nepal, they have organized multiple strategies; provided scholarships to all girls, constructed girls’ latrines, and adopted a quota system to increase the number of female teachers. They also organized sensitization campaigns in the beginning of the school year, mobilizing communities to enroll all children in school.

There is no silver bullet; the solutions need to be tailored to each country’s situation, based on where the bottlenecks are. They need to respond to girls and their families voices too. There is a need to find culturally acceptable and context-specific ways to overcome the barriers girls are facing.

Women Deliver: We focus a lot on getting girls in school, but is that enough? What do they need once they get there?

Aya Kibesaki: Indeed, while there has been great progress in getting more girls into school, that is not enough. Girls need to learn well in school, and also thrive in school. For that, they need curriculum and textbooks that respond to their needs, in a language they are familiar with. They need teachers who are not only well trained on their subject matter, but who also know how gender stereotypes affect both girls and boys, and have the skill to encourage them to overcome these barriers.

They need a school environment that is free of violence, be it verbal, moral or physical. Increasingly, we know that school health and nutrition programs can help girls to stay in school as do life-skills and sexual and reproductive health sessions and access to such services. Beyond access to latrines and clean water for drinking and washing, the provision of private facilities for menstrual hygiene management and provision of sanitary supplies may also help to keep girls in school. And, girls need role models in and outside of schools to inspire them. In areas where social and cultural factors are keeping girls out of school, interventions that engage parents and community leaders alongside interventions in schools can create a more supportive environment for girls both inside and outside of school.

Women Deliver: Of course the ultimate goal is universal education for all children, but do we need to be thinking more about alternatives to traditional education as a way to reach out of school children, especially older adolescents and the most marginalized? Should more attention be paid to opportunities for education outside the traditional schoolhouse model?

Aya Kibesaki: In the short term, alternative education can provide good opportunities for older adolescents and the most marginalized to access knowledge and skills. We can think of contexts when this is important option; for example in conflict affected states, for IDPs and refugees, and for children who have no alternative but to help their families, and for nomadic populations.

However, from the equity perspective, in the long run, it may not be ideal for a country to maintain a parallel system whereby the privileged go to and continue formal schools, and the more disadvantaged get alternative education. For young people who have experienced alternative education, the lack of equivalence with formal examinations and accreditation can be a disadvantage later on. In many countries, more and better education often means greater opportunities in life, be it regards to work, or to other aspects of life. Ideally, alternative education programs include pathways back to formal schooling.  At the same time, formal education may need to cater more to the needs of older adolescents and disadvantaged. Some alternative education programs seem to meet the needs of children well, for example offering a condensed curriculum, offering flexible timing and links to apprenticeships and skills training that can link young people with the local job market. Indeed, if children feel that schools would not increase their chances of improving their future lives, they likely would not want to sacrifice an income generating opportunity for an education.



Women Deliver: What about the question of data? Do we need better, different, more data to develop the truly impactful solutions?

Aya Kibesaki: Data can help identify, and target those children who are not accessing school, or dropping out. It can help identify and target regions/districts and schools that do not have enabling learning conditions such as good classrooms, textbooks being available, and teachers being trained. Data can also tell us which groups are doing well and which groups are lagging behind in order to support the development of targeted interventions and more equitable resources allocations to help ensure no one is left behind.

In order to be optimally useful, data on education outcomes should be disaggregated not only by sex but by region and by other factors such as disability and socio-economic status where possible, and should be paired with environmental data on the classroom and teaching. This way a Ministry of Education can be equipped to identify who is disadvantaged where, and what environmental (supply-side) factors are most influential in supporting students.

On the other hand, Ministries of Education can suffer from collecting too much data which is then not fully utilized or from being unable to collect reliable data to inform policy making and investments. And there are limitations to what data can tell us. One has to understand the limitations of data, and that girls’ education might sometimes be impacted by things such as violence in and outside of classrooms, early marriage and pregnancy, and social norms.