Happy Girls in ICT Day!

On Girls in ICT Day, we’re celebrating the roll-out of Kolibri, an open-source learning platform, which we’re using in 15 PEAS schools in Uganda to support students to develop and strengthen their literacy, numeracy and digital skills.  

Today in Africa, as elsewhere globally, the ability to leverage digital technology is indispensable to an individual’s well-being, as necessary as basic literacy and numeracy. Increasingly, individual’s need both foundational and digital skills to secure a job, access life-saving healthcare information and financial services, engage in civic and political discourse, and speak out about issues that affect them. The ability to read and write and leverage digital technology is a particularly powerful tool for girls and women, helping them to make informed choices about their health, families and communities, their careers and overall life trajectory.

But globally, women and girls face gender-based barriers that prevent them from accessing and using technology at the same level as boys and men. This divide prevails across the globe, but the biggest inequalities are in Sub-Saharan Africa, where girls and women are 45% less likely to access the internet than boys and men[1]. For girls and women in rural areas, the barriers are acute and cross-cutting and include unreliable power supplies, poor internet connectivity, cost, fear of discrimination and poor literacy and numeracy skills. Removing these barriers begins by getting girls in school, building their confidence, and learning the essential skills.

PEAS has 15 years’ experience educating adolescent girls in rural communities in Uganda and Zambia. With one of the largest secondary school networks in Sub-Saharan Africa, PEAS educates over 16,000 students at 36 schools each year. We reserve over half of all our school places for girls and evidence shows that girls at our schools feel safer, learn faster and develop more relevant skills than their peers at other schools. All PEAS schools have well-equipped ICT labs and, through Computer Studies and co-curricular activities, we help students to overcome barriers to accessing technology, and build their confidence and skills so that they can use it in a safe environment.

Yet prolonged school closures due to COVID-19 have compounded the pre-existing barriers our students face, causing significant disruptions to learning and many to fall behind. So, last year we began using Kolibri – an innovative, offline learning software – to provide additional support to students who need it the most, to help them to develop essential literacy, numeracy and digital skills. This year, PEAS has developed bespoke literacy and numeracy learning content for Kolibri which is contextually relevant and appropriate at the secondary level. Now, targeted students across 15 PEAS schools in Uganda are engaging in independent learning at their own pace and level.

Students targeted for remedial support will attend one 80-minute lesson each week, held in the ICT labs during school hours. During a lesson, students navigate the Kolibri platform to watch video content, read stories at their own pace and complete practice questions that give them immediate feedback. The purposeful timetabling of our remedial programme during school hours ensures day girls don’t miss out on the support they need. Last year, 50% of the students enrolled on the numeracy programme were girls, and this year we’re expecting the same, if not more.

By testing appropriate solutions for technology in low-resource contexts, PEAS has found an innovative approach to supporting girls in rural areas build foundational and digital skills. It’s low-tech, sustainable solutions like Kolibri that create opportunities for girls in low-resource geographies to get into ICT, strengthen their literacy, numeracy and digital skills and build their own futures.

[1] Intel and Dalberg (2013). Women and the Web: Bridging the internet gap and creating new global opportunities in low and middle-income countries.

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