Harnessing the power of partnerships, Africa Code Week’s (ACW) yearlong Women Empowerment Program held an online alumnae event in the last week of June 2021 on ‘Creativity in the Classroom’ centred around UNESCO’s Media Information Literacy (MIL) program.
Aimed at supporting quality education (SDG 4) and gender equality (SDG5) through partnerships to achieve these goals (SDG17), the informative, collaborative, and innovative educational program brings together African women teachers and educators in Computer Science and STEM to foster an environment for sharing knowledge, brainstorming innovative ideas, and collaborating on challenges and projects.
Started in 2019 by SAP, UNESCO’s YouthMobile, Irish Aid and the Moroccan Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training, the UNESCO supported program seeks to implement ways to teach, mentor, and inspire young African women and girls to prioritize their education. It also aims to level the playing field for women by addressing the challenges they are faced with when it comes to accessing digital educational and growing their skillset.
At the event, attended by participants from 16 African countries, Qingyi Zeng, National Professional Officer for Communication and Information at UNESCO’s Beijing Cluster Office, unpacked UNESCO’s Actions on Media and Information Literacy (MIL) including the importance of fast-tracking digital literacy, coding and various technical applications.
Considering that 70% of the world’s youth are operating online, Zeng highlighted the importance of the alumnae event discussion topics and how critical they are to ensure young African girls are prepared to navigate classrooms of today to prepare for highly competitive 21st century careers.
As a result of the fast approaching Fourth Industrial Revolution, access to information has increased due to an explosion of digital channels. With a second edition announced in April 2021, the UNESCO MIL curriculum was first launched in 2011, to assist people to navigate the complexities of media and information literacy as a fundamental part of lifelong learning by highlighting an array of intersecting skills to transform interactions within constantly changing information and learning environments, online and offline.
Zeng also emphasised UNESCO’s Global Action on MIL which included providing capacity-building resources such as free and open online courses, research opportunities from MIL University Network, as well as campaign and advocacy exposure from Global MIL Week.
Zeng further exposed specific examples: in China, MIL has trained 141 teachers with training materials expected to be embedded into the teaching curriculum. UNESCO’s actions on MIL in China is addressing gender sensitivity and promoted gender equality through a variety of computer games with a leading female character. Besides, picture books and animated video episodes on MIL for children are being developed, covering topics on tackling disinformation and misinformation, do’s and don’ts on social media, protecting online safety and privacy, equality and diversity, etc.
Celebrating the alumnae event and curriculum success, Victoria Ngono from Girls In STEM Trust, Zimbabwe, adds: “The [UNESCO] MIL curriculum will definitely make a difference in the way we discuss technology with our students. In times of cyber-bullying and misinformation, our children are at risk and we need to see the rise of a tech-conscious generation.”
At a moment when every sector is becoming a technology sector, empowering African women and girls in technology is key towards gender equality in access to education and involvement in the economy. The best place to start is with intervention programmes specifically targeting them at a young age in their classrooms through fair access to education and representation by empowering skilled female teachers.
“Through the strength of collaboration and by partnering with SAP to power Africa’s biggest digital skills program, Africa Code Week, we can create massive strides in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030,” says Davide Storti, UNESCO Coordinator of the YouthMobile Initiative. “This is critical to reach generation equality which means that every girl and boy receives the same education opportunities and an equal chance for a brighter future.”
With 1 out of 3 children missing out on remote learning because of today’s unprecedented challenges, the role of teachers in community-based societies is central and reinforcing teacher leadership is crucial.
“Empower educators and learners to develop critical thinking and problem-solving competencies is key. Creative initiatives such as the Women Empowerment Program and the UNESCO MIL curriculum can significantly contribute to grow the number of females in science and technology, as Africa’s emerging professionals will inspire those that succeed them,” says Storti.
Adding to the importance of advancing women in today’s modern teaching space, Africa Code Week Co-founder and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at SAP EMEA, Claire Gillissen-Duval adds, “The SAP Africa Code Week and UNESCO partnership continues to grow from strength to strength. We are incredibly excited to welcome our first alumnae of the Women Empowerment Program. Through our webinar series, we aim to close the digital gender gap and help ensure everyone can play a role in shaping Africa’s future in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
Within its UNESCO YouthMobile Initiative, since 2016 UNESCO collaborates with SAP to support and organize Africa Code Week, the single largest coding event of the continent with the aims to raise awareness of ICT for a critical mass of participants.