Using EdTech to address the digital gender divide
What is the digital gender divide?
We live in a digital age, where electronic tools and resources facilitate our day-to-day activities. However, the access and usage of these digital tools are not spread equally among genders, and women tend to be worse off. The International Telecommunications Union states that over half of the global women population is offline, which is more noticeable in developing countries. For example, 393 million adult women in developing regions do not have mobile phones.
Why does this divide need to be discussed?
It is essential to discuss the digital gender divide because, in today’s world, digital literacy is a crucial skill to have when entering the workforce. Digital literacy refers to a person’s skills to effectively interact with digital technologies and function in a digital environment.
There are links to a person’s digital literacy and the opportunity to earn higher or gain economic advantages. For young people, digital involvement allows formal and informal learning, an avenue for expressing their ideas, and a place to seek opportunities.
Therefore, if women trail behind in the digital economy, they are more likely to have fewer job opportunities and face more hurdles in the workforce. Also, when more women are not active contributors to creating online tools, these inequalities become broader over the years. Thus closing the digital gender gap will empower women and girls globally.
What causes this divide?
The digital gender divide exists for several reasons. These can be broken down into three intertwined categories: Access, Digital Literacy, and Online Safety.
As we delve into these three areas, it is crucial to note that the digital divide is a reflection of the gender divide offline, stemming from societal norms and perceptions.
Women tend to have lower income levels, especially in developing regions, and earn 30-50% less than their male counterparts. These lower-income levels reduce their financial independence and disposable income. The Global System for Mobile Communication found that “women and girls who go online less frequently have less disposable income to spend on mobile or internet services.” In rural areas, this is more pronounced due to poor or no infrastructure and limited to no network coverage.
Another element tied to access is the view that the internet is unsafe for women. Due to this view, there are gatekeepers (usually the womens’ family or community) to ensure women have limited or no access to the internet. The Global System for Mobile Communication reported that some rural areas in India banned women from using mobile phones. Some communities deemed it immoral for women to use them. They view such devices’ usage as a risk to the traditional social order.
2. Digital Literacy
Being literate digitally is closely linked to the amount of access one has to digital tools. Noting that women tend to have less access to digital technologies reduces their ability to comprehend their usage fully and gives them a limited view of these tools. This low digital literacy sets them back as digital literacy is crucial in today’s world to ensure one can participate in a digital society and practice safety online. This highlights the vicious cycle of not having access to digital technology as it feeds into attaining digital literacy.
3. Online Safety
Despite the numerous advantages of technology, it also comes with risks such as online harassment, cyber-bullying and stalking, and data security and privacy breach. Women and girls tend to be at greater risk of such dangers. In a report by OECD, 52% of women worldwide have experienced digital harm, and 68% of that occurs on social media.
Such harm can create negative digital experiences for women and girls. Some women and girls will be less willing to contribute to online public discourse, self-censor their contributions, or stop using the internet and social media, thus contributing to the digital gender divide.
How can Edtech help in closing the digital gender divide?
Realizing how important digital technology is for women and how harmful the digital gender divide is, the next question is what can Edtech do to help solve this.
Firstly, the design of any Edtech program should have girls at the core to ensure that it meets their digital needs. When creating programs or AI-powered solutions, we must be careful not to translate gender stereotypes either via virtual assistants or by having gender-biased data as information for machine learning algorithms. If this occurs, the divide existing in the physical world will also seep into the digital world.
Cyberbullying has existed for almost as long as social platforms have allowed forums. With the lens focused on women and preserving their safety on learning/educational Edtech platforms, we suggest a couple of solutions. Edtech programs could have safe spaces, creating a community of women and girls that allows them to interact and learn together. The personalization of Edtech to accommodate the needs of women and girls means there needs to be creativity, adaptability, and flexibility in the design of such programs to ensure that they are sensitive and current on how best to help encourage women to embrace technology.
Lastly, to increase access to women and girls, especially in rural areas, the need for low-tech but high-impact educational technologies comes in handy. Incorporating non-smartphones, televisions, and radios into Edtech strategies helps reach more women and engage them digitally. Interest can be piqued among women on such platforms, first through representation. Having programs taught by other women and girls can help convince women and girls that technology is something to embrace. Moreover, using such tools allows the women to familiarise themselves with simple technological tools, and once familiar with those, eagerly await higher-tech gadgets.
The most important points to remember
At the end of this discussion, some points should remain at the top of our minds. The gender divide outside technology is being translated into our technology usage and creating a digital gender divide. This digital divide is harmful to women and girls because it robs them of digital literacy, which is essential to progress in today’s digital economy. This gap centers around three key areas:
- Limited access to such technologies, especially for rural and developing countries.
- Low digital literacy due to limited access.
- Womens’ online safety, which influences how they interact with such tools.
To use Edtech to overcome these begins with the design of Edtech programs. There is a need to eliminate gender stereotypes from virtual assistants and machine learning algorithms. Also, to cater to the conditions peculiar to women and girls, we need to personalize technology, which requires flexibility and adaptability. Lastly, promoting low-tech but high-impact tools will help bridge this gap, especially for remote regions.
About Chalkboard Education
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Chowdhury, A. T., & Binder, G. (2021). What we know about the gender digital divide for girls: A literature review. UNICEF Gender and Innovation.
EdTech Hub. (2020). How do we support the use of EdTech for girls? Retrieved from EdTech Hub: https://edtechhub.org/how-do-we-support-the-use-of-edtech-for-girls-and-address-the-digital-gender-divide/
European Schoolnet. (2020, March 6). IMPACT EdTech: tackling gender inequality in education. Retrieved from European Schoolnet: http://www.eun.org/news/detail?articleId=4904219
OECD. (2019). The Role of Education and Skills in Bridging the Digital Gender Divide. OECD Directorate for Science, Technology, and Innovation.
Plan International. (n.d.). Bridging the gender digital divide. Retrieved from Plan International: https://plan-international.org/education/bridging-the-digital-divide