Interview by Effah Amponsah
ICT4Girls Programme is fast becoming a household name when it comes to women in STEM empowerment programmes in Nigeria – Africa’s most populous country. Anchored by Eko-Konnect Research and Education Initiative – an NREN in the country, this famous programme is giving hundreds of girls a hope for the future and by extension helping to bridge the yawning digital gap in Africa. AC3 met Kafayat Adeoye – a frontliner in the ICT4Grils Programme; she tells us all about the programme.
What’s ICT4Girls about?
Yearly, Eko-Konnect Research and Education Initiative celebrates the ITU International Girls in ICT Day as part of it’s contributions to bridging gender barriers in the STEM field. This led to the overall agenda of the ICT4Girls program to empower young secondary school girls and women in STEM to embrace ICT as a career or integrate with their interest.
What have you done so far to actualise it?
The program agenda is in three phases:
- Self-paced online courses: Eko-Konnect eLearning platform hosts courses with topics on Robotics, Internet of Things, Physical Computing, Python, and Data Science for the participants to gain hands-on skills in building smart systems using low cost embedded devices and sensors for solving problems, generally creating a fusion of computer hardware and programming interaction with the environment. More info about the courses can be found on our website.
- Hackathon: The hackathon event is where some of our participants have a chance to showcase the skills they have learnt from the online courses by building a project. At the last hackathon event, 5 women onsite were joined virtually by other participants to build a Face Recognition System for class attendance. You can watch the system presentation on our Youtube channel and read the project full description.
- Community Day: The aim is to build a vibrant community, offer mentorship and promote innovation in tech. Our 2020 community day centred around women upscaling innovation in the tech field. We invited women experts from the technology industry such as Google, Facebook and Higher institutions in Nigeria presenting real-life applications of trending technology in Artificial Intelligence-Natural Language Processing, Mixed Reality (XR) and Data Science. Full information about the event can be found on our website and you can watch the event on our Youtube channel.
Share with us your success story
The outcome has been impressive so far, we had over 250 women show interest to participate in the program which spans for 3 months. We even had some applications from men we just had to allow them to access the online resources while the other parts of the program were mainly targeted at the women.
Our participants were mainly students from age 17 – 25, I think from the feedback we had received it has exposed the majority to more globally adopted activities and trends in technology and the way it is changing our world. This has piqued their curiosity to want to learn more and discover new things and keep up with their counterparts in developed countries and may have changed their perception about STEM.
What are the girls doing practically with the knowledge they have received through your activities?
We have some of our participants who are recreating last year’s hackathon project as final year projects. While some have started some sort of ICT4Girls club within their communities, for meetup sessions and following similar activities to encourage other women.
What have been the hard times?
The level of retention is quite low. Since the activities involve hands-on skills, not being able to get grants that can be used to procure resources that our participants can use to make learning more engaging and gain practical experience is quite a challenge and not having some sort of a free space non-academic maker lab where these women can drop in to experiment their ideas. Thankfully, there are a lot of learning resources available on the internet but being able to sieve through this information to simplify the learning materials is an herculean task.
What does the future look like for ICT4Girls?
We hope to utilize available Regional REN infrastructure to facilitate more interactive activities and improve on awareness and outreach to attract more women participation. We also hope to collaborate with other NRENs to form a wider community and stir up global support for Africa women in STEM.
The future looks bright for hundreds of thousands of girls in Nigeria and beyond as Eko-Konnect braces itself to enhance the delivery of the ICT4Girls Programme, of course, with the support of Women in STEM activists and groups, advocacy bodies and international donor organisations.