International Women’s Day 2024: Voices from EdTech Hub

This year’s International Women’s Day celebrates global work to #InspireInclusion. Read how EdTech Hub experts are working to not only inspire inclusion, but achieve it.

It’s commonly observed that women are underrepresented in the technology sector globally — including within the realm of EdTech. According to UNESCO’s ‘Cracking the code: Girls’ and women’s education in STEM’ report, women account for only 35% of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students enrolled in higher education worldwide.

This underrepresentation often extends to low and middle-income countries (LMICs), where cultural and socio-economic factors may further limit women’s participation in technology-related fields. Efforts to address this gender disparity typically involve initiatives aimed at promoting STEM education and entrepreneurship among women and girls in LMICs.

Throughout March, in celebration of women and girls globally, we will feature voices from women in EdTech from across the globe as we learn from and elevate their experiences, passions, and perspectives. 

At EdTech Hub, we’re privileged to work with an amazing cadre of women both at the Hub itself and through our wide array of partners and stakeholders. We’d like to use this series to share the voices of dedicated individuals who are advancing education through technology and, in turn, breaking down barriers for greater equality in and out of the classroom.

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How does gender equality influence EdTech innovation and education accessibility in your area of work or region?

Annette Zhao, Researcher: From a research perspective, sometimes it’s evident that the design, conceptualisation and/or implementation of EdTech interventions lack gender equality consideration. Gender equality is sometimes reduced to nominal equality of usage rather than equitable access and equitable representation of different genders in the intervention (e.g. graphic representations of girls vs boys). It is then difficult to determine in research whether the results are affected by these designs. 

Ciku Mbugua, Country Co-Lead, Kenya: In Kenya, cultural biases disadvantage girls when it comes to using technology for education, especially at home, and this has a ripple effect as they grow and pick career paths. There is a need for deliberate design of implementation that ensures girls and boys are given equal opportunity and access both at school and home. While equality is considered at the policy level, the same does not translate at the school level due to different biases, especially towards girls. 

Haani Mazari, Asia Lead: There is huge diversity in the experience of gender equality across the Asian continent, even if we are to break down the continent regionally. However, across the board, I have found that having more gender equity at the decision-making level tends to have a trickle-down effect on gender equality in both education and innovation. I feel you cannot fully understand the barriers someone faces — be it gender-related, socioeconomic, or linguistic — until you’ve experienced it, you cannot address it unless you accept that it is there. I suppose this is why we emphasise the importance of user-centred design, as it helps address the nuances of inequity that may be invisible to others who don’t face the same barriers. Otherwise, thinking about equity becomes a bit of a “tick box” exercise, unfortunately.

Iman Beoku-Betts, Country Co-Lead, Sierra Leone: In Sierra Leone, the government has passed the Radical Inclusion Policy to ensure that we “radically include” all marginalised communities, including girls. Furthermore, the government has passed the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act which introduces 30% female participation at the government level as well as the introduction of a gender unit in all ministries. Although we are always aiming for gender equality, at times this is difficult — whether that be at the national level, district level or school level. Not only do we need to include girls in activities, we need to go the extra mile to radically include them when it comes to EdTech.

Jennifer Cotter-Otieno, Country Co-Lead, Kenya: The majority of innovators in the EdTech space are male, as are most of the decision-makers in government who make decisions about what solutions to adopt at scale. While our policies require equitable access to all education solutions regardless of gender, the hidden biases in the design and selection of tools may inhibit full participation by girls. Girls and women must be empowered to be creators and decision-makers for EdTech so they can ensure gender inclusion is a top priority.

The voice of women can change the whole experience of EdTech innovations.

– Atuly Afsana  

Are there any success stories or inspiring instances where women have taken the lead in EdTech initiatives, fostering inclusivity and empowerment in your line of work?

Haani Mazari, Asia Lead: Unfortunately, I feel like we have a way to go. However, what I will say is that many EdTech providers have leveraged the expertise of women in instructional design. This has helped contribute towards the development of more inclusive narratives that teach through female protagonists.

Jennifer Cotter-Otieno, Country Co-Lead, Kenya: In Kenya, we have several globally recognised EdTech founders and incredible champions for the use of EdTech in our public system. One of our local public sector leaders, Sheilah Lutta, from the Ministry of Education Special Needs Department, is an advocate for EdTech as a resource for the inclusion of learners with disabilities. She has worked together with another incredible female leader, Maria Omare from The Action Foundation, to empower girls and women with disabilities to engage in STEM education and pursue work in technology-related fields through the Ibuka Programme.

What would be your message to the EdTech sector players to ensure that EdTech solutions prioritise the needs and perspectives of women and girls, especially those from marginalised communities?

Atuly Afsana, Country Co-Lead, Bangladesh: From the inception to execution — at every step,  keeping the voice of the women is imperative to create an equitable environment. Therefore, women’s participation should be taken seriously. Also, the innovators should have an open mind to be able to accept what women have to say to make it accessible for all. 

Haani Mazari, Asia Lead: First and foremost, no one need or perspective is shared by all women. For example, because my parents championed my education, I have an extremely different perspective and platform than more of the most marginalised girls. I’d say we begin by thinking of the most marginalised girl child and ask: What inspires her? What does she need? What holds her back? I know it might sound cumbersome or time-consuming to pause and reflect, but it truly impacts effectiveness and can shift implementation needs from context to context. I remember learning through research in Kenya that reading camps for girls had a great impact on learning. However, through EdTech Hub’s Pakistan Digital Learning Landscape Analysis, we found that in some parts of Pakistan, cultural barriers are preventing bringing together girls from different households. Rather than reacting to the cultural barriers, I suggest we respond by adapting the implementation model. For example, I’ve learned from implementers in Afghanistan that removing SIM cards from digital devices helped address parental concerns about girls’ safety while accessing digital learning.

Iman Beoku-Betts, Country Co-Lead, Sierra Leone: When you think of including the needs and perspectives of women and girls, you need to remember that these women don’t all come from the same background or have had the same experiences. We need to remember that when we are designing initiatives, we need to empathise with the users at different levels and make sure we are co-creating with them from the beginning. We need to consider their ideas and listen to their experiences to ensure the product we are creating or rolling out will not marginalise them further but include them.

Jennifer Cotter-Otieno, Country Co-Lead, Kenya: Women and girls from a variety of backgrounds and abilities should be involved in the design, testing and implementation of EdTech solutions. Evaluation of EdTech solutions should include disaggregated data on the effectiveness of female learners in different contexts, and their voices should be elevated through qualitative data collection to understand their experiences with using the solutions. Universal design for learning principles should guide, and women and girls should be included as co-creators as solutions are implemented in context. 

What we know is that inspiring inclusion starts with connecting with each other. In the words of Ciku Mbugua, Kenya Country Co-Lead:

Until we understand what these women and girls need, we are not adequately able to offer support. Empathy is what drives us to co-create with them to ensure that what we are offering is relevant and impactful.

– Ciku Mbugua

We invite you on this journey of building connection, inclusion, and equity. Join us throughout this Women’s History Month as we share more valuable insights and experiences from remarkable women working on bridging equity gaps and delivering a better future for all.  

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Jillian Makungu for her contributions to this blog.

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