Can digital technology education improve gender equality in ICT careers in Kenya?

About 10 years ago, multibillion-dollar information communication technology (ICT) companies like Lyft, Pinterest, Slack and Uber didn’t exist. Today, some aspects within the industry have not kept pace with the same rapid evolutionary processes as the rest of the sector.gender equality chief of inequality between them.

As a member of the 11th cohort of the Echidna Global Scholars Program at Brookings, I seek to identify the root causes of the exclusion of girls and young women from digital technology education at all levels—namely, lower elementary, high, lower secondary, upper secondary school and higher education.

Working in the ICT industry as a lecturer, trainer, and practitioner for nearly 20 years, I can easily attest to this fact. During my undergraduate studies, my computer science class had only one female student out of 15 male students. Of the total computer science students I currently teach at my university, less than 9 percent are women. A quick review of the graduation brochures of various Kenyan universities reveals that the rate of women graduating from university with ICT-related degrees is extremely low, and the rate decreases further as more universities are sampled. This phenomenon has been termed the “trickle down”, where women and girls do not progress in their ICT-related studies, thus culminating in under-representation in ICT careers. Low graduation rates contribute to the low number of women qualified for careers in digital technology, as most employers will only hire digital technology experts who have a university degree, despite the fact that a good number of employees can be self-taught.

ICT in Kenya

The gender imbalance in ICT in Kenya is part of a worldbroad problem. 2021 World Economic Forum Reportfor example, observed that only about 26 percent of artificial intelligence (AI) professionals globally are women, and a 2021 UNESCO report noted a strong gender imbalance globally regarding the representation of women in STEM fieldsand even more so in sub-Saharan Africa.

Gender disparities in ICT-related careers in Kenya can easily negatively impact gender equality and economic empowerment efforts in most workplaces. or report from McKinsey and Company shows that in developing economies, including Kenya, women make up approximately 40 percent of clerical aid workers. Rapid advances in digital technology mean that the first victims of automation in relation to jobs are administrative, clerical and unskilled workers. Given that there is already a global shortage of women in the digital technology workplace, it is clear that the move to digital economies will result in increased unemployment rates among women in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Kenyan government has launched a number of initiatives aimed at attracting more boys and girls to ICT-related courses, the most prominent being the recent Google-sponsored initiative to pilot coding projects in some primary schools. However, such initiatives do not take into account existing gender inequalities and, more importantly, how to mitigate these inequalities.

As a member of 11th group of the Global Echidna Scholars Program at Brookings, I seek to identify the root causes behind the exclusion of girls and young women from digital technology education at all levelsnamely lower primary school, upper primary school, lower secondary school, upper secondary school and tertiary education. The study will not only examine the mechanisms that exclude girls at these levels, but also analyze the impact of early events on young girls’ future ICT-related career choices. That is, I will examine the effects of various deficiencies in the schooling process, such as social, economic and infrastructural inequalities or even something as simple as a lack of role models. The results of the study will inform the design of an education policy framework aimed at bridging the gender divide in digital technology careers in Kenya.

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