Access to information by women and girls can be seen both as a reflection of society’s customs and expectations for their lives; as well as a hint of a country’s potential for social and economic development. In places where girls have phones, and is also socially acceptable for them to do so, they enjoy evident benefits in terms of learning, new opportunities, ways to help their communities and even get politically involved, compared with girls in more restrictive settings.
A report funded by the Vodafone Foundation, carried out by international NGO Girl Effect (founded by Nike) with support from MIT D-Lab, “Real girls, real lives, connected” takes a global look at patterns and limitations in ownership and use of mobile phones in girls.
In general, boys are more likely to use a phone than girls, and everywhere rates of mobile penetration in males are at least equal to females. Device ownership is as unequal as the world itself, with places in Africa reporting less than 15%. (In the US, it’s 99%.) But while girls can resort to borrowing phones from relatives, friends or their spouse, the functions they take advantage of is limited, which over time widens the gap of mobile competencies.
Negative social perceptions remain, often internally, but they evolve. Even in the most patriarchal contexts, phones are starting to be seen and framed as tools for safety, to justify ownership. But moving along more openly connected societies, new challenges arise. General feelings of dependency, or inability to properly discriminate the veracity of the information consumed are glaring examples. Many of the girls interviewed recognize that owning a phone calls for responsibility in their use.
Other factors, pertaining to infrastructure and cost, are also roadblocks whose weight correlates to the level of industrialization of the society. Electricity is still a concern for at least 70% of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa.
So much has to happen to go from girl with mobile access to fully grown Moodler
The study should give teachers, officers and designers a welcome view of previously uncharted territory, and it will certainly arise more questions than it answers. It also offers a key pointers for Moodle development and creation going forward:
- Education as a higher-stage function. We can think of the “mobile affordances” in a pyramid, perhaps in line with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The study shows girls with limited or early access to phones use mostly the basic functions when the devices are finally on their hands: Calls, text, perhaps setting some reminders. Smartphones enable information search and social media. Education purposes only tend to come long after, seldomly by their own accord. It is ironic that in many of these contexts phones can be their best, if not the only feasible way to increase the 9 years of schooling the average African girl gets. Make that 6 for girls in Niger, Central African Republic or Chad. Could learning be transformed into a more basic mobile affordance?
- Using EdTech takes more than only digital literacy. On the social realm, it takes more than handing a girl a phone to turn it into a device of empowerment. On the digital side, apps need deep rethinking to make them more readily useful for them. Currently Moodle and other mobile apps seem to assume a hefty level of familiarity with the language and conventions of the internet and digital tools.
- In summary, as powerful and potentially life-changing a phone can be, a lot is still ignored to generate change where most is needed, especially when it comes to education and behavior. Better mobile solutions, “relevantly and valuably designed” for them, have an unforeseeable potential, but its impact can be as good as the socioeconomic context allows it. UNESCO’s “Left Behind” report shows that women roles in education correlate with higher secondary school enrolment rates in girls.
Learn more and get the full report at girlsandmobile.org.