Even as internet connectivity spreads around the globe, the UN has found that the digital usage gender gap is growing – and is about 43 percent in the least developed countries. Girls are less likely to have access to the internet and devices, and GSMA just reported that women are now 19 percent less likely than men to use mobile internet across low-and middle-income countries. At the same time, women and girls are at heightened risk for online violence.
A new guide for educators and accompanying policy brief from UNICEF share strategies for narrowing the gender digital divide through “gender-responsive digital pedagogy (GRDP),” or instructional and program practices that respond to learners’ unique needs based on their gender when learning remotely and using digital technology. We back these recommendations, which include providing gender-inclusive content, tracking and tackling gaps in outcomes by gender, ensuring girls’ and womens’ access to technology and digital skills, and safeguarding girls in online environments. Gender inclusion is deeply embedded in all of our work, including how we design and deliver programming, train teachers, and evaluate outcomes.
Addressing Gender-Related Barriers to Education and Digital Tools
To meet the needs of all digital learners, first we have to identify and address the social and financial barriers to education that girls face and combat absenteeism.
Across sub-saharan Africa, our Bantwana Initiative has developed and effectively deployed digital Dropout Early Warning Systems with aligned self-screening tools to identify patterns of attendance and other dropout risk factors, such as socio-economic constraints or violence. Early Warning System tools developed by World Education have paved the way for thousands of teachers to take preventive action to keep girls and other vulnerable youth in school and safe, including students with disabilities. A critical learning from this work, including the Go Girls Connect! project in Eswatini, is that through the mobile-optimized self-administered tool, girls were candid about reporting shifts in their socio-emotional behavior and sexual activity that can affect school attendance.
In the United States, through the College Success for Single Mothers project, we provide coaching to community colleges on expanding their services for parenting students to access in person, hybrid, and online learning opportunities, stay in school, and meet their educational goals.
Meeting Girls and Women Where They Are: Embedding Digital Skills into Programs
Reasons for why people and girls are not able to connect to the internet include gaps in internet access and affordability, as well as limited awareness about the internet and lack of foundational skills to navigate it. To overcome some of the barriers to access, it is critical to ensure that education, economic strengthening, and other programming that girls and women participate in – including youth and women’s groups – embed opportunities to develop digital skills.
For example, we use Positive Youth Development approaches to develop the skills of youth to protect themselves from violence, improve their health and wellbeing, and build economic resilience. As they develop these life skills, they also gain digital skills by using cellphones to learn, to support each other through messaging, and to save money through mobile-enabled savings groups.
In Malawi, Bantwana partnered with DreamStart Labs to introduce the DreamSave financial record keeping app to 20 village savings and loan association groups. The app replaces paper-based record keeping and makes it easier for groups to manage their financial records, achieve savings goals, and build their financial and digital literacy skills.
Equipping Educators with Inclusive, Gender-Responsive ICT Integration Skills
Bringing quality digital skill and digital learning opportunities to girls and women begins with upskilling teachers and practitioners on how to integrate technology in their classrooms. Our EdTech Center works across our global projects to train educators to leverage technology to improve instruction and to build the digital skills of learners using inclusive practices.
In partnership with Urban Institute, we provide guidance to community and technical colleges in the US, to help boost equity in their hybrid and online courses.
In Nepal, we’re training teachers on using Open Education Resources (OER) and other digital learning tools aligned with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles to improve language and literacy skills of early-grade students with disabilities. We collaborated with partners to lead a training to refresh teachers’ sign language skills and share EdTech tools they can use in the classroom to enhance learning.
As part of the USAID-funded Saint Lucia ConnectEd Activity, we’re partnering with Saint Lucia’s Department of Education and a consortium of partners to train educators nationally on integrating technology into their instruction and developing youth digital skills.
Ensuring Online Safety
According to a global study, 38% of women have experienced online violence, 85% of women who are online have witnessed it against other women, and online harassment for most girls starts between the ages of 14 to 16. Teacher professional development and program design must focus on safeguarding so that individuals, and especially children and women, are protected from online violence, exploitation, and other forms of abuse.
Through ConnectEd, we are training teachers in Saint Lucia across all subject areas to teach online safety and information literacy, and to curate, adapt, and develop culturally appropriate OERs to teach these and other critical concepts. In the United States, we have collated resources to teach online safety and information literacy in the free and open Digital Skills Library developed by our CrowdEd Learning initiative on effective use of OERs. We are also providing technical assistance to San Francisco State University on their development of OERs in partnership with immigrant-serving community-based organizations to teach critical thinking, data and media literacy, and ways to stay safe online.
The gender digital divide is increasing – and especially for girls and women who could most benefit from the access to information, communication, education, and other services that technology can facilitate.
To reverse this course, we must all take stock of our impact strategies, programs, and instructional practices and ensure that they are gender-inclusive. We must ask what more is needed to address gender-related barriers to education and digital tools, to meet women and girls where they are by embedding technology into programming, to train practitioners on effective ICT integration strategies, and to ensure online safety. The future is increasingly digital, and whether this future consists of increased digital divides and gender inequities or increased opportunities, voice, and rights for girls and women depends on our actions today.