Starting Young: The W.TEC Girls Technology Camp
The Women's Technology Empowerment Centre (W.TEC) is a Nigerian non-profit organization that builds the capacities of Nigerian girls and women. It also aims to increase their economic power and ability to speak about issues affecting their lives. This is done through technology literacy training, mentoring, and research.
W.TEC was conceived and created in January 2008 in response to research that demonstrated that, although information and communications technology (ICT) significantly contributes to a nation's development and growth, women – who comprise approximately half of Nigeria's population – are severely lacking in their knowledge and use of technology.
Over the last two decades, Nigeria has experienced a rapid growth in ICT jobs. However, women are less equipped than men with the necessary skills to participate in this space. Available research shows that the number of women enrolled in technology courses at Nigeria's higher institutions of learning is lower than men. This disparity is also remarkable in the ICT industry with women accounting for less than 20% of ICT jobs in Nigeria. Worst of all, these 20% of women tend to occupy mostly junior or non-technical positions. This is a clear indication that women are not benefitting from technology's economic and social advantages in Nigeria.
Research shows that in order to engage women to explore and use technology, it is important to highlight its personal and professional opportunities. One of W.TEC's strategies to accomplish this goal is the W.TEC Girls Technology Camp. This camp, which is mostly comprised of secondary school girls from marginalized social groups, seeks to equip the girls with skills in computer technology and other ICT domains, thereby developing interest and encouraging the advancement of their studies.
Through a highly competitive application process, 31 very bright and enthusiastic young girls with a keen interest to learn more about technology were selected to participate in the two week-long residential camp. This year's edition took place in August of 2013.
Through technology classes, workshops, presentations, excursions, and leadership exercises, we sought to help girls build skills through their own creativity and innovation in addition to existing tools.
The modules at the camp included Website Design, Staying Safe Online (Digital Security), Scratch Programming, Video Production, and Application Development. The application development module was led by the founder of an innovative new Nigerian start-up, Jandus Radio, and was preceded by a talk about how she began her career in technology. In Video Production, the girls learned the different stages of creating film. They learned how to create a storyboard for their ideas, write a script, film, and edit their stories.
An important component of the camp curriculum is the career talks, which provided the opportunity for women (and a few men) working in technology-related jobs to speak to the girls about their work and how they got involved and interested in technology. This year, the girls were able to listen to presentations from a wide range of professionals that shared the importance of technology in their daily works. There were presentations from engineers and programmers working for Intel and General Electric, respectively; a travel executive from Amadeus; and a film director. Some of these career sessions were facilitated by video conferencing tools with staff from offices in the U.S. and South Africa. This demonstrated yet another unique benefit of technological professionalism. The feedback we received from the girls indicated that the career talks gave them a real picture of working with technology and educated them about various career paths they could pursue.
Another highlight of this year's camp was our two-day visit to the offices of General Electric. During this visit, the girls had the opportunity to speak with GE staff in diverse roles at varying levels. The girls were also introduced to 'Scratch' and they learned how to use the graphical programming tool to create short animated films. These projects continued for the remainder of their time at the camp.
On 'Graduation Day', the girls had the opportunity to showcase their work. Websites, blogs, apps, and Scratch projects were presented on laptops in an exhibition space to their parents, friends, and media outlets. All of the parents were awed by how much their daughters had accomplished in such a short period of time. The girls also talked about their work and the ideas behind them.
Individual and team prizes were awarded based upon projects completed during the camp. The projects were assessed in accordance with the following criteria: demonstrated level of creativity, complexity of the project, teamwork, and the overall quality of their presentation.
The girls expressed that the camp was a great learning experience and provided solid exposure to technology. Many of the girls indicated that the camp inspired them significantly to pursue careers in ICT, while others said even if they do not pursue an ICT career, they would integrate technology significantly into every area of their lives.
Specifically, the girls shared the various ways that the camp was beneficial to them. These included:
- Basic use of computers;
- Knowledge of different types of technology-related careers and how information technology can be applied in different types of work;
- Information to help in deciding which type of career would be suitable for their aptitudes and temperaments;
- Digital video production skills;
- Introduction to programming using Visual Basic, Code One, and Scratch; and
- Introduction to website design and creating blogs using WordPress.
The success of the camp and the feedback from our alumnae greatly helped and influenced the establishment of a technology club for girls in 2014, which will meet weekly to continue to build the knowledge and skills acquired at the camp.
Oreoluwa Somolu is the founder and executive director of the Women's Technology Empowerment Centre (W.TEC) and a 2013 Ashoka fellow. Learn more about W.TEC at www.w-teconline.org and www.facebook.com/wteconlinepage.
Photos courtesy of Oreoluwa Somolu, taken at the camp in 2013.
About the Author
The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and U.S.-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial U.S.-Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in U.S.-Africa relations. Read more