The Covid-19 pandemic has thrust teachers and students into the largest educational experiment the world has ever seen. The lockdowns have compelled teachers to embrace technology and challenged students to learn via Zoom, mobile phones, radio and television. Over 750 million girls and young women have been part of this global experiment and there is emerging evidence to suggest that this shift to online learning could be having a positive impact on girls’ education.
EdTech Hub’s July 2020 rapid education review, found that "when barriers were removed and female students were given access to technology and technology-enabled education, studies have shown that girls are likely to respond with a high level of engagement".
In Vietnam, for example, a recent study by Young Lives showed how teacher-led online classes were widespread during the pandemic, with a greater proportion of participation by females (89 per cent) compared to male students (86 per cent). iMlango in Kenya has been running a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office-funded programme to support 70,130 marginalised girls improve their learning and transition to the next stage of education, using satellite broadband technology. During the pandemic, they developed a mobile phone app to be used on parents’ mobile phones, to ensure girls and boys could continue learning from home.
Furthermore, EdTech Hub’s findings demonstrate that "access to technology has been shown to be disproportionately more empowering for girls and women than for boys and men", and "that the advantages extend beyond the realm of formal education and empower them in other areas of life".
The pandemic has put a spotlight on the importance of skills that build resilience and help young people engage with diversity in a positive way, and young women and girls are keen to acquire them. Our Institute’s online education tool, Ultimate Dialogue Adventure, which helps students aged 13-17 develop these skills by participating in online dialogue and video conferences with thousands of students worldwide, has seen a greater proportion of females than males (approximately 59 per cent and 41 per cent respectively) participating in 2020.
Prior to the pandemic, 130 million girls were out of school as a result of poverty. Since the start of the pandemic, almost a further 750 million girls have been out of school and have, where they can, relied on distance-learning solutions as their educational lifeline. Despite the gradual reopening of schools in many parts of the world, the Malala Fund[_] estimates that an additional 20 million secondary school-age girls may not return to school this year due to the disruptions.[_] Bridging the digital divide could be part of the solution if we can act quickly. However, two thirds of the world’s school-age children are without access to an internet connection in their homes[_] and, where it does exist, girls are often last to benefit due to gender bias and stereotypes.
The issue of access to technology also extends to schools, teachers and parents. As key providers for girls’ education, they also need sufficient resources, and online and gender-responsive training to be able to fulfil their role in supporting girls' right to a quality education. Since 2019, the Giga Initiative has been working with ITU and UNICEF to provide connectivity to every school in the world. UNESCO’s Global Education Coalition, of which the Institute is a member, seeks to address the gender dimensions of the school crisis and safeguard progress made on gender equality in education in recent decades.
The obstacles faced by girls to schooling and technology affect not only their life chances and educational opportunities, but also their employment options as well as their countries’ potential for economic growth and development. A 2018 World Bank report states that the loss in human capital wealth from girls not completing 12 years of education could cost between $15 trillion and $30 trillion in future earnings globally.
Bridging the gender gap in education and levering technology is vital to urgently meet the educational needs of girls and young women where they are, reverse negative trends and open opportunities for life-long learning, employment and prosperity. In a world where technology will only grow in relevance in the future, we have a responsibility to harness its power for good, at scale and to ensure its availability and benefits are there for all.