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Connect to Learn: Inspiring South African girls with ICT

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One of the things I love about working for Ericsson is our commitment to the strategic objective of employing more women and promoting female leaders. Two great examples of how we are taking action in this area are our support for Girls in ICT Day on April 27th at a variety of locations around the world, and our Connect to Learn(CTL) project together with UNICEF’s TechnoGirl program in South Africa.

Growing up female in South Africa, I have never believed my gender makes me any different or less valuable than my male counterparts. I was always told that I should do what I want to do – that I was free to make my own decisions and pursue my interests. But I know that not all girls are so lucky.

I joined Ericsson in 2016 as a graduate recruit because I thought working within the ICT industry would be challenging and offer me many different career paths to explore, and I wanted to be a part of a company that transforms lives through technology and ICT. My belief that Ericsson is the right place for me has only grown stronger after my experience working on the CTL South Africa project.

Launching Connect to Learn in South Africa

I joined the project in June 2016, the week before we were about to deploy and install the solutions at the three selected schools. I was thrilled to be asked to join the deployment team and see the solution in action at the schools where we would be making a positive impact. The project covers two things close to my heart: education improvement and gender equality.

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The new state-of-the-art computer laboratory at Sivumelene Secondary School

The legacy of the apartheid era is still visible in South Africa’s education system – especially in rural areas, where schools are often under-resourced. By tackling this problem, I believe CTL has the potential to truly transform education in South Africa. In other CTL projects across the world, the focus is on schools that have a large female contingency. This isn’t the case in South Africa, though, because most of our rural schools are co-ed.

During the deployments I got to see for myself what an under-resourced rural school looks like – and it was an eye opener! Prior to our arrival, these schools had no ICT resources for education purposes and many of the teachers had limited ICT literacy. Using ICT in education is a step in the right direction in working towards transformation. It’s a key way of leveling out the playing field and making sure that rural children have the chance to develop the ICT skills required to be able to study at the university level.

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One of the teachers doing her presentation during training.

The deployment of CTL in South Africa has been as bumpy as the roads to get to the schools. Along the way, we’ve experienced delayed flights, connectivity issues, teachers with almost no ICT experience, and some language barriers too. We even had a goat walk into one of the classrooms!

Despite the setbacks we’ve faced, I’m pleased to report that we’ve completed a full deployment with training at one of the three schools in the pilot project, in a state-of-the-art lab that we built in a classroom. The teachers vary widely in age and ICT literacy. Their skill levels ranged from those without email addresses to those who knew how to download YouTube videos. As the training progressed, it was great to see how quickly they relaxed and got comfortable with the technology. By the time the training was over, we had excited teachers who couldn’t wait to start using ICT in their lessons.

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Sivumelene Secondary School teachers geared up and ready for ICT and Connect to Learn training.

Changing mindsets

Getting more women into the ICT sector should be considered an opportunity, not a challenge. Solutions like CTL in South Africa have an important role to play in changing the way people think about women’s role in society and in the workforce.

On top of the obvious benefit of improving the quality of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education for both girls and boys at under-resourced rural schools, my hope is that CTL in South Africa will also help change the mindset of rural girls. ICT in the classroom opens up a whole new world of career possibilities for them to consider. Personally, I would like to see more young women choose careers in ICT because they, like me, are inspired by it and want to work in this field. But more importantly, I want to see more young women who are have the confidence to pursue their dreams, whatever they might be, and truly believe that they can do anything they want.

Note: The people in the picture at the top of this post are Simon Muskett (Head of Education Design and Delivery for Connect to Learn), Monique Walters (Regional Head of Learning, RSSA) and blog post author Sarah Druce(Marketing & Communications Graduate, RSSA).


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