On Girls in ICT Day, let’s think beyond coding

Technology has infiltrated most aspects of our lives —the way we interact, learn, shop and conduct business. For many, this means more access to opportunities and information.

Technology is also rapidly transforming the employment landscape, bringing with it a gig economy and a demand for entrepreneurship. It is projected that 65 per cent of children attending primary school will be working in the types of jobs that do not exist today.

For girls to be competitive in the future job market, they must be able to thrive in the new categories of work as they evolve. This means a change in the skills we teach and an intentionality to gender equity in the programmes we develop.

At UNICEF, we are committed to ensuring today’s youth have equitable access to technology including by working with adolescent girls and helping young women to design apps that help them track their periods, ask health questions, and crowd-source safe walking routes home.

A girl leans forward over a table with yellow papers.
© UNICEF/Lebanon/2018/KellyUNICEF’s Generation of Innovation Leaders program in Lebanon hosted a “Youth Challenge” competition in December 2018, where the ultimate reward was a US$20,000 investment towards furthering the winning team’s project.

Digital skills’ continuum

Instead of thinking of only coding, let’s think about digital skills along a continuum: from basic to advanced. Coding, knowledge of artificial intelligence and mobile application development are the most advanced skills. However, for many girls worldwide basic digital skills like using a keyboard, writing email or filling out an online form, can further open doors to digital banking and other business services.

Focus on marketable skills bundles

As teachers, we also need to stop teaching girls digital skills in isolation from other skills. These should be bundled with other transferable skills like creativity, problem solving and critical thinking. Skill bundles are key to providing young women with choice and opportunity in a world of work, including starting their own businesses.

At UNICEF Lebanon, the Generation for Innovation Leaders (GIL) programme provides young women and men with one-month of intensive entrepreneurship training to develop entrepreneurial, digital and transferable skills so that they can craft innovative solutions to solve their communities’ problems. The programme has also partnered with with DOT Lebanon to create a digital freelance job-sourcing platform called Bridge. Outsource. Transform. or BOT.

In Jordan, UNICEF has developed a Youth Engagement Pyramid that entails five approaches to achieving employability including learning 21st century skills, internships, and employment or social entrepreneurship. These approaches are underpinned by mentoring and coaching, and to date has reached more than 88,000 girls – 50% of the total participants.

Young women in headscarves and unifrms smiling standing in line with a UNICEF banner in the background.
© UNICEF/UN0286749/Jordan/2019/HerwigUNICEF Jordan is supporting a women’s organization in Souf, Jerash in Jordan, to provide youth in their community with training and economic opportunities. “Women can do anything men can. We can open shops, have our own projects and market them,” says Sawsan, 26. “Then we become equal in our community.”

Partnering with a shared pursuit of gender equality

In equipping girls with marketable digital and social entrepreneurship skills, public and private sector efforts need to go hand in hand to ensure that skills training meets the skills required by employers. The private sector is a willing partner in efforts to support gender equitable opportunity among today’s youth, as they are acutely aware that companies with greater gender equality enjoy higher levels of growth and performance.

UNICEF is also working with Girl Effect to put girls front and centre of the design process and bring girls into the digital economy.

On Girls in ICT Day,  we must continue to design and scale-up programmes that level the playing field for girls and intentionally close the gender digital divide that is being replicated in today’s generation of youth.

 

Patty Alleman is Senior Advisor, Gender Section, UNICEF

Kimberly Chriscaden works in advocacy and communications for UNICEF’s Gender team

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