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How to Increase Girls Digital Literacy in East Asia and Pacific

By Guest Writer on May 15, 2024

unicef girls ict asia

The recent UNICEF study Girls’ Digital Literacy in East Asia and Pacific Regions, showed that girls and boys across the region are online in huge numbers, but they are often engaging in only a few basic digital activities. Furthermore, despite feeling that digital literacy is important for their future, adolescents often only possess basic digital competences. Lack of progression to more advanced digital competences seems to be particularly acute among girls.

Both girls and boys tend to develop their digital literacy through a combination of self-learning and social learning. The latter often takes place through friends and family and is largely centred around mobile devices. Various factors can act as enablers or barriers to this process.

  • Lack of access to infrastructure, devices and data can pose a barrier to girls and boys across the region, particularly in rural areas.
  • Language issues can also be a challenge, particularly for those unfamiliar with English.
  • Sociocultural norms can also present a barrier, specifically to girls, because stereotypical gender roles can affect girls’ confidence, motivation and interest in developing more advanced digital competences.
  • Concerns about girls’ online safety can also lead gatekeepers (e.g., parents and caregivers) to impose restrictions on use, thus impeding girls’ opportunities to learn.

Governments across the region are engaging in large-scale digital transformation efforts, and digital literacy education is often an integral aspect of this. However, governments have a number of challenges to contend with in order to introduce digital literacy education, including lack of digital access and poor teaching quality in the public school system.

Issues around teaching quality are likely to particularly affect girls, as current approaches to teaching digital literacy appear to be largely gender-blind. This gender-blindness could act as a further barrier to girls’ digital literacy development, given the sociocultural norms that need to be addressed in order to support girls to progress to more advanced digital competences.

4 Key Ways to to Increase Girls Digital Literacy

The following recommendations highlight actions that can address the challenges impeding girls’ digital literacy development across the region.

1. Build an evidence base on girls’ digital literacy.

The report findings suggest the following areas need more research:

  1. Digital literacy gender gaps among children and adolescents, particularly more marginalized populations: Large-scale, in- person survey data are needed, preferably with the addition of performance tests to assess digital skills and competences. All data should be sex disaggregated.
  2. The impact of interventions designed to bridge digital gender gaps, and their effectiveness in different settings: A combination of quantitative and qualitative data would be valuable to assess impact and effectiveness.
  3. The impact of tablets in the classroom and their effectiveness in supporting digital literacy development: The existing data largely focus on mobile phones, desktop computers and laptop computers, yet various recent initiatives have been working to expand digital access in education through provision of tablets. A combination of quantitative and qualitative data would be valuable to assess impact and effectiveness.
  4. The nature of cognitive bias among teachers in the classroom, and potential gender differences among teachers: An ethnographic research approach would be suitable, as it is challenging for teachers to self- report on cognitive bias.
  5. The extent to which gender is considered in national ICT curricula: A systematic review of ICT curricula across the region is needed to assess gender considerations. Where possible, curricula should be reviewed in national languages.

2. Increase access to affordable internet and digital devices.

Collaboration between government, public sector organizations (such as education providers) and private sector organizations (such as mobile network operators) can be valuable in tackling these challenges.

For example, one solution involves ‘zero-rating’ education platform content, to ensure it is free for teachers and learners to access. UNICEF is currently pursuing this approach with internet service providers in Lao PDR, to make the digital learning platform, Khang Panya Lao, free to use.

3. Develop instructional materials in local languages.

Digital content and training materials need to be made available to adolescents in the languages most familiar to them. These should include at a minimum the national language(s), and where possible also local dialects. Where possible, it should also contextualize with local examples that are relevant to the target population(s).

4. Address sociocultural norms that limit girls’ aspirations.

A combination of approaches is needed to target the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours not only of girls, but also of their families, their communities and wider society. These approaches should include:

  • Teacher training to enhance digital literacy education and address gender barriers: This must include, first, training to improve teachers’ own digital literacy and their knowledge of pedagogical techniques for teaching digital competences. It should then also include training on gender stereotypes in STEM education and how to address them through gender-responsive learning environments (e.g., introduction of project-based learning focused on ‘real-world’ problems that are relevant to girls).
  • Promotion of girls’ participation in digital literacy education: Once digital access in the school system has been achieved, this promotion can include education frameworks and curricula that introduce ICT as a distinct subject during primary education and maintain it as a compulsory subject during secondary education. Additionally, curricula that promote development of digital competences across multiple subjects are needed, along with gender-sensitive instructional materials that avoid reinforcing gender stereotypes around technology through language or imagery.
  • Public and private sector collaboration to enhance digital literacy education and address gender stereotypes in technology career pathways: This should firstly include collaboration with the private sector to ensure students develop digital competences relevant to future employment opportunities. Collaboration should also include practical linkages such as women in the technology sector acting as role models and mentors for girls in formal and non-formal education. It could also involve internship and work experience opportunities for girls in the technology sector.
  • Parent and community outreach programmes to address gender stereotypes in technology career pathways: These would include, for example, programmes that address perceptions that ‘technology is a male domain’ and highlight how studying ICT could benefit girls, including potential career paths.
  • Parent and community training on how to guide rather than restrict girls’ digital activity: This should include training to improve parents’ own digital literacy and their understanding that the use of digital devices and the internet can be beneficial to girls (with clear examples of the benefits). It should also focus on building parent confidence and knowledge about how they can support girls to stay safe online.
  • Non-formal digital literacy education opportunities: These should include local community programmes for girls who are out of school, or for those who desire additional support and learning opportunities. These programmes should focus on creating gender-responsive learning environments that are particularly sensitive to the needs of girls with low digital literacy. They should also leverage local networks already connected with marginalized girls (e.g., youth groups and women’s groups) and engage with these networks to understand the specific needs of the girls they work with.
  • Media campaigns that address gender stereotypes in technology and concerns about online safety: These should target girls, parents and caregivers, and their communities. Girls and parents should be involved in campaign development to ensure relevance of content. Calls to action should drive girls, parents and caregivers to participate in the training and outreach programmes recommended above.

A lightly edited synopsis of Girls’ Digital Literacy in East Asia and Pacific Regions

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One Comment to “How to Increase Girls Digital Literacy in East Asia and Pacific”

  1. Michael K. SHAWISH says:

    Dear Sir/Madam,
    I am Michael K. SHAWISH, from South Sudan, and question is only for my knowledge!
    Concerning how to increase girls’ digital literacy and especially for us in South Sudan, first, it will start with teachers through Ministry of education. Our teachers are still far behind some almost all schools are using blackboard, white chalks, and duster. They do not know how to develop themselves with online courses, even some cannot even operate mobile phones, so I am suggesting giving training on digital literacy to some schoolteachers or rather school inspectors and education monitoring teams so that when time comes for teachers, those personnel should be the right trainers
    I have these ideas in my mind, but want you guys to help me here to have brilliant points on paper, could you help me here?

    Many thanks,

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