Tanzania is currently facing an undeniable challenge: there are few girls in the information and communication technology (ICT) field, and those who want to join the field often opt instead for roles that commonly have limited vacancies, like doctor’s positions. This leads to a scarcity of female role models who have thrived in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and ICT.
While there is an oversaturation in common or more traditional fields, the new jobs and roles afforded by technological advancement in Tanzania often get outsourced to foreign workers.
The Universal Communication Service Access Funds (UCSAF), a government agency with the mandate to bridge the digital gap in rural and urban underserved areas in Tanzania, working with She Codes for Change, an organization that aims to bridge the gender gap in STEM and ICT in Tanzania, saw the opportunity to rectify this problem by targeting the place where the journey to ICT begins — the classroom.
The entire month of March 2017 was used to conduct trainings in six different zones in Tanzania in efforts to spark interest in young girls to make them want to pursue science subjects. We also wanted to expose them to the non-traditional ways in which ICTs can be used to serve the community.
Young girls who are currently in secondary school and doing well in Mathematics and Science subjects were selected using their form II National examination’s results and were sent to the nearest region where trainings were being conducted. In particular, only girls from public schools were engaged as most public schools do not have the necessary resources to practically expose the students to the world of ICT. A total of 428 girls and 32 teachers have been trained since we began this initiative in 2016. It was imperative that the teachers are also included in the training so as to enable them to nurture the spark ignited in the students by the trainings once they returned to their schools.
So how exactly do we ignite that spark in the young girls?
Well, our training takes place over a period of three days. We kick-off the first day of training by having our trainers take the students through the process of ideation. It is at this stage that the great potential that lies within these young minds can be realized.
From there, the girls are broken up into groups and each group is tasked to come up with one idea that addresses one of the issues currently affecting Tanzania and that can be transformed into a mobile application. While the entire second day is used to build the mobile applications using the MIT App Inventor, the final day is used to teach the girls how to give a good pitch of their ideas. Each group pitches their mobile applications to their peers and teachers. It is from the pitching session that the group with the best mobile application is chosen to represent their peers at the national training.
Finally, the national training involved the winning groups from the six zones who went to Dar-es-Salaam to refine and finalize their mobile applications. The national winners were picked after all groups pitched their mobile applications and they will represent their peers at the ITU Girls in ICT Day Conference in Ethiopia.
We are still far from the finish line in bridging the gender gap that exists in ICT in Tanzania. Nonetheless, every step taken brings us closer. Our future plans include starting ICT clubs in all schools that have already participated in this initiative and providing them with all necessary ICT equipment to enable practical learning.
By: Doreen Bateyunga & Justina Mashiba, Fund Secretary, UCSAF.