Promoting inclusion of women in education, especially marginalized women or those from the developing countries.
By Dr. Melinda dela Pena-Bandalaria (Professor, University of the Philippines Open University)

In recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of courses offered in the distance education. Thanks to this mode of delivery, geographical distances ceased to be a problem when it comes to studying or earning a degree or improving one’s educational qualifications.

The rapid advancement in information and communication technologies is making distance education even more accessible and more empowering because now studying can be done anywhere, anytime. Applying modern information and communication technologies (ICT) also makes it possible to simulate many classroom settings and real-time discussions and interactions – a major determinant of quality in education.

The technology of eLearning in distance education has brought education to the fingertips of learners wherever they are–which is not only empowering but liberating as well. We are all aware that education is an effective intervention to break the vicious cycle of poverty.

But does this development in education benefit women, especially those at the grassroots, and in developing countries?

There is a “pervasive and persistent argument that women are at a natural disadvantage to benefit from the digital revolution because they are less tech savvy, and more technophobic, and because the technology is not built for their needs and intuition” (Hilbert, 2011). This implies that women have limited access to computers and the Internet.

This scenario further brings to mind the argument that instead of empowering and liberating women by making education accessible to them, distance education eLearning actually contributes to further excluding women from education, or even widens the gender digital divide. There are also cultural reasons for why women sometimes cannot access the Internet. For example, in some areas, women cannot travel alone or cannot stay at public Internet access points that are usually associated with or frequented by males.

The causes of digital exclusion for women are gaps that can be filled by programs such as digital literacy training that give them the needed skills for education, being employed, earning a livelihood, and accessing information that improves the quality of their lives in areas such as health and nutrition; or gives them opportunities to participate in worthwhile causes that address social issues.

ITU and Telecentre Foundation’s Telecentre Women: Digital Literacy Campaign addresses these concerns. To improve Internet access, it is probably worth looking into creating a “Women’s Hour” at public Internet access points (telecenters and community eCenters) during which they are reserved for women only, especially in countries where the culture does not allow women to mingle with men who are not their relatives.

One hopes these two strategies will help promote inclusion of women in education, especially marginalized women or those from the developing countries. And that this also paves the way toward including women in employment and other opportunities.

The She Will Innovate: Technology Solutions Enriching the Lives of Girls competition is searching for the world’s most innovative solutions that equip girls and women with new digital technologies — enabling them to live healthier, smarter, and more meaningful lives. Submit your solutions or nominate a project that empowers women around the world.

This post was originally posted at Changemakers.

About the guest blogger: Dr. Melinda dela Pena-Bandalaria, PhD, is professor of development communication and dean of the Faculty of Information and Communication Studies of the University of the Philippines Open University. She has been developing and teaching online courses for more than 10 years and is involved in the eCenter Program of the Philippines, working on capability-building component and implementation of the Telecentre Women: Digital Literacy Campaign in the Philippines.