Today’s world is not only a global village, but also very-fast paced, thanks to ever changing technology. 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 instruments of 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 gender digital divide.
However, statistics show that 390 million women are unconnected through mobile phones in low to middle-income communities; 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 about technology other than 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 three months, however, 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. While my country has made lots of advancement in technology, particularly with mobile phones - mobile phone penetration in Kenya has risen to 95.1% from 94.3%, while internet penetration reached 85% of the total population – young women and girls, however, 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. They are restricted to the dummy mobile phone, often used by their mothers to communicate and receive money through mobile money transfer services.
Most girls in secondary schools have never touched a computer or a smartphone. In our research, only 3 out of 15 girls know what the internet is. Equally, it is extremely rare to find a girl who knows how to navigate the web. In a school with 400 girls, only a few of them have experienced using a computer, while the others do not know what emails are, or have typed 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-skill-needs assessment among girls in Kirinyaga county, a group of women embarked on a journey of empowering young people, especially girls in rural day secondary schools, with digital skills.
Gladys Muthara, Fridah Ndoro, Susan Waruingi, Esther Mugachia, and Wanjiku Karanja created the “Digital Literacy for Employability and Entrepreneurship” project. Designed to provide in-school training to girls in order to help them to obtain better jobs and improve their future, training consisted of basic digital skills, advanced tech-skills, as well as the ‘1 Computer-1 Neighbourhood’ activities. This entails the girls to train their peers on digital skills in a village neighbourhood setting.
It is an inspiring journey, often characterised by tears of joy and disbelief. We see girls learning, slowly but surely, from the very first day when they practice how to type their names on a computer in order to gain confidence, until the last day when they graduate. These young women are both empowered and encouraged at the end, after completing the full course that includes introduction to computers, MS-Office, and how to use the internet. Truly, I have never seen girls as excited and eager to learn as in this initiative!
Sadly, our joy does not last long, since we often have to turn down children, who are so eager to learn, because we cannot accommodate more than 20 children in a semester! Our current students to computer ratio, is 4:1 laptop. Some girls give up along the way and drop out of class, because they are not able to spend enough time with a computer.
All 400 students in our one school are interacting with computers for the very first time in their lives! For them, this is an incredibly rare opportunity, and they count themselves very lucky to be able to learn digital skills for free. Their parents, who mainly live on less than a $1 per day, may never be able to afford paying for the informal cyber-cafes’ computer package training.
However, my colleagues and I will not be giving up; with just 5 laptops and computers coupled with our mobile phones, we still do our best to help girls gain skills to access limitless opportunities for education and economic empowerment, while amplifying their voices.
So, we genuinely call on all philanthropists, to help make thousands of children skilled and well-educated. By donating a new or used laptop, that will transform the lives of many children and improve their knowledge and livelihood.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”