In the future, information and communication technology (ICT) will impact and influence our lives in a big way. To take full advantage of the ongoing information and communication technology evolution skills in coding and algorithms are essential. The sectors that will be impacted most include healthcare, transportation, education, agriculture and trade. Appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks are required to facilitate the deployment of these technologies as enablers. It has been estimated that 90 per cent of future jobs will require ICT skills, and around two million new jobs will be created in the computer, mathematical, architecture and engineering fields.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) report on The Gender Gap in Science, globally, only 28.4 percent of people engaged in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers are women. In sub-Saharan Africa, that figure is around 30.0 percent on average. Additionally, the proportion of women using the Internet globally is 48 percent, compared to 58 percent of men. Between 2013 and 2019, the gender gap hovered around zero in the Americas and has been shrinking in the CIS countries and Europe. However, in the Arab States, Asia and the Pacific, and Africa, the gender gap has been growing. Coding and other ICT skills are essential in the future labour market. Hence, if African girls and women are to be part of the fast-growing sectors in the future job market, they must be able to develop the ICT skills needed. Thus, it is important that they also learn to code. That is fundamentally needed to close the gender gap in the tech world and is also essential for closing the overall gender digital divide.
Towards a Solution
‘Coding Camps and ICT training for Young Girls in Africa – Phase 1’ (2018–2021) is a continental Initiative based on a partnership among the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the African Union Commission (AUC). The initiative aims at reducing the gender digital gap by exposing African girls to, and equipping them with the computer and information technology skills through coding provided by STEM related education that will open doors in entrepreneurship and career opportunities in the job market later in life. The initiative targeted young African girls between the ages of 17 and 20 who are enrolled in the 11th grade of high school. Training is conducted through coding camps and is organized annually in different African countries in the form of continental, regional and national coding camps.amps.
The objective of the coding camps is to inspire the young girls to build their computing and ICT skills and hands-on experience in the STEM disciplines through interactive basic coding and programming. Scratch is used as the programming software to introduce them to computer programming in a short time. It is an easy coding language that teaches the girls coding and programming, and how to create and share their own interactive stories and animations.
The training programme and course work for the coding camps are designed in collaboration and consultations with ITU, partners in the Ministries of Education, ICT, and higher education institutions and tech companies to ensure that the training and learning experiences are designed to equip the girls with the appropriate skills to pursue higher education and employment in ICT. The initiative exposes the girls to a wholesome learning experience with a primary focus on building their coding , and leadership skills. The coding camp’s learning environment provides a peer-to-peer learning, sharing and collaboration experience for the participants. Through these camps, the participants from across the African region share experiences in terms of strategies and approaches used by their respective countries and educational systems with the aim of supporting girls to embrace science, technology, and innovation.
The first phase of the project has reached more than 500 girls, and in the next phase, the coding camps will reach more than 1,000 girls across Africa.
To ensure the sustainability of the initiative, an online platform was developed. The coding skills of the participants is maintained via the online platform where the girls can inspire each other, stay connected and share experiences after the camps. The platform includes mentoring from experts with a good understanding of gender and ICT, who support and encourage the girls.
The online platform also includes learning materials and short courses (beginner, intermediate and advanced levels), innovation competitions, linking opportunities (scholarships, conferences), research publications, and an open platform for innovative and policy discussion. All of these will be accessible and available to the overall female public, including those who were not at the camp. Camp participants become members and have access to: materials to further develop their projects; a portal to connect with their team members; and a portal for support from trainers from the camp (mentorship). The platform provides available learning materials, which will be designed as an interactive learning experience and space to share ideas and opportunities with likeminded individuals. The platform will continuously be updated with up-to-date information in ICT and provide space for companies to advertise job opportunities.
This project is already being replicated in the Arab and Americas regions. However, the projects are at the formulation stage.