ICT: Entrepreneurship Education for Girls
ICT is one of the most important and fastest growing sectors. In order to be able to reflect the diversity of modern society, this sector’s workforce must be made up of people of all ages, both male and female. That is the only way to develop products and services that meet the needs of all target groups. Moreover, the shortage of skilled labor in this sector highlights the need to attract more women. A crucial step toward achieving this goal is to introduce women to ICT at an early age. This ensures they develop the skills they need, prevents them from losing interest and opens up various paths to a career in ICT. The success of this approach relies on innovative, well-designed and structured educational concepts such as those worked up by Fraunhofer IAO and its partners.
Recommendations for developing project methodologies
Analysis of previous projects allows us to determine their key components and insights, and helped us develop the following transferable recommendations.
Integrate a gender perspective into teacher training and materials
In order to ensure actions are designed to have a positive effect also on girls, the following should be considered: Teaching or promotional materials should use a gender sensitive language and avoid the use of stereotypes in pictures, story boards and other visual aids. This is of utmost importance in depicting the variety of choices available, especially when dealing with a professional sector with deeply rooted gender stereotypes. Support must also be given to teachers and other training professionals by offering training and guidelines on gender sensitive didactics. It has been shown that the promotion of girls has less to do with whether or not they are part of a coeducation environment, but rather with achieving self-reflexive, gender sensitive coeducation.
Address the broad possibilities and many different job profiles offered by the ICT sector
Girls may not choose to follow a career in ICT because they are unaware of the variety of jobs and opportunities available. They may just as easily be misled by the perpetuation of stereotypes concerning the people and work involved. This underlines the importance of addressing the current landscape of ICT jobs and shedding light on the creative, social and highly communicative sides of jobs in this field. Insight should also be given into the opportunities for self-employment. As emphasizing the two aspects– working in the ICT sector AND working self-employed – simultaneously could prove counterproductive, it may be helpful to devote more time to developing enthusiasm and skills for a career in the ICT sector and less to the issues relating to self-employment.
In connection with the first two recommendations, the importance of individual self-reflection within the project team should be noted as this contributes to the “intervention”. The relevance of this in terms of our own ideas and stereotypes related to (a) girls and ICT, and (b) towards our knowledge about the ICT sector and job profiles is due to the mere fact that most of the project members are not working directly in the ICT sector, but rather in an educational context.
Include role models
This widely used approach is aimed at putting girls in touch with female role models. Different methods include presenting online biographies of women role models, nominating ambassadresses and using databases of women available to attend school events. Here, we would like to underline the importance of providing girls with insights not only into job profiles and a typical working day, but also into the personal biographies of these role models. In choosing their future careers, it is especially important that girls consider how to best combine a future family life and motherhood with work, in particular within a traditionally male dominated sector. When designing actions involving role models, the principle of “the closer, the better” is helpful in terms of face-to-face meetings, but even more so in relation to the age difference to the girls.
Participatory design approach
From the very beginning of developing materials or actions, we strongly recommend getting input from those they are aimed at: in this case girls. This extends to the design of elements such as games and platforms. In practice, materials are often designed without considering a female perspective or what girls respond to or consider important. This becomes an even more pressing concern once we recognize “gender” as something “in motion”, constantly renegotiated by the individuals involved in a particular context or situation. What is more, teachers need to be included in the design process.
Switching from user to designer
In familiarizing girls with the applications of ICT, experience shows that giving girls the chance to be creators is very effective: they switch from being a user to being an active designer. This is very important as many current initiatives are geared toward ensuring user skills in ICT (digital literacy), which differs greatly from the “making of ICT”. In this respect, web 2.0 technologies offer a wide range of possibilities for activities, as these technologies are both appealing and easy to use.
Plan enough resources to support teachers
Those in charge of realizing the actions – teachers for example –must receive adequate support. This includes technical support and maintenance as well as materials training on how to use the various tool boxes, training kits, platforms, and Web 2.0 technologies. Alongside ensuring the transfer of knowledge among teachers and in achieving a multiplying effect, it is helpful to include activities for teachers that enable them to reflect on their own learning processes and experiences – for example in building up communities. Supporting teachers also raises the question of not underestimating the time-consuming effort of engaging in something new. One way to support teachers is for the framework of mandatory education to officially recognize training activities; another way could be to integrate ICT activities into established school activities such as project weeks, school clubs or, if possible, into the curriculum itself.
Be aware of security issues
The various aspects of Internet security are framed by the personal perspectives of main actors involved in the educational process: teachers, parents and pupils. With this in mind, the following three perspectives are relevant to designing pilot projects, especially when product development involves social media and platforms requiring online registration:
- Parents are protective of their children, especially when girls are encountering ICT; relevant issues here include cyberbullying and the security of personal data (addresses, information on personal activities).
- Teachers and school management are responsible for their pupils while in school and during school activities, and as such also have a valid perspective on the issues mentioned above. It is important for schools to ensure a closed and secure digital environment.
- Pupils are keen to keep school and private activities separate, especially when it comes to using social media.
Anchor initiative into existing activities and look for potential partners
- We should establish a strategy to anchor the initiative within participating countries and related activities: Potential candidates include Girls’ Day or, even more appropriately, Girls in ICT day – these initiatives are rapidly gaining ground in a variety of countries.
- We strongly encourage partnerships with related projects, companies (from within the ICT sector, for example), or organizations with similar goals.
- We must also identify “real drivers” for the pilot projects: school principals and teachers who are themselves convinced by the goals and potential of the ICT-Go-Girls! project.
It should be emphasized that the key competence “digital competence” is primarily oriented toward ICT literacy, whereas from the perspective of professional profiles in the ICT sector, ICT related skills and competencies extend far beyond just using the technology and enter the world of design and development. These aspects influence projects supporting girls in ICT: According to results of the PREDIL project, there is no difference in the extent to which today’s girls and boys use ICT at school or in their free time. The gap exists in terms of who is creating and developing the technologies used in society, where highly specialized knowledge on technology is in great demand. Here, it may be worth exploring using the term “ICT practitioners” as opposed to “users”.
Europe 2011, page 26.