When the Tanzanian government implemented the free education policy for primary and secondary school students in 2016, the aim was to providing more children from low income families, access to free education.
To address the needs of the growing population, the government, The United Nations recently marked the first International Day of Education, setting the pace towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 that seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote learning opportunities by 2030.
Quality education is the foundation to ensuring sustainable development and it continues to be a national priority for the Government of Tanzania where children below the age of 15 constitutes about 45 per cent of the total the population.
This gave rise to the Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT), a youth-led innovation that seeks to empower youth with tools, knowledge and networks to create opportunities that will transform their lives and communities. DOT has a growing network of 6000 youth who are supported to become innovators, leaders and catalysts of positive impact in their communities. DOT has partnered with the private sector, governments and community-based organizations to attain a collaborative vision of enhancing wellbeing of communities.
DOT, a key player in the edTech space, has with the support of Human Development Innovation Fund (HDIF) been able to integrate two highly acclaimed programs: ReachUp! and TeachUp!, into the government’s Vocational Education and Training Authority (VETA) colleges. ReachUp! teaches digital, employment and entrepreneurial skills to VETA students and out-of-school youth where they learn leadership, facilitation, mentoring and coaching skills, while supporting students on the program. Teachers in five VETA centers and student teachers at the Morogoro VETA Teachers’ Training College are provided support to integrate technology into their classrooms and curriculum through the TeachUp! program. DOT engages teachers, facilitators and digitally savvy youth who deliver the program in the VETA centers and coordinate efforts for setting up virtual classrooms for students in tertiary education. Through their programs, DOT has reached 17,000 youth and women. In partnership with HDIF, 4200 beneficiaries and 250 teachers have benefitted.
“Our programs empower youth with the ability to plan and develop a sustainable livelihood. Students are challenged to use innovative thinking and entrepreneurial skills to assess the ways in which they can address problems and expand opportunities in their local environment,” said DOT’s Senior Project Manager and Gender lead, Ms Diana Ninsiima. With guidance and support, DOT programs have enabled students to create business plans and launch their businesses.
DOT’s partnership with VETA – a key player in the vocational education ecosystem – has played an important role in the delivery and sustainability of the program. VETA’s extensive reach has enabled DOT to roll out its programs through a national network of colleges that have experienced tutors, and computer labs with some connectivity to the internet. DOT also offers ICT coaching sessions to individual teachers who are often reluctant to participate in group training, to help them integrate ICT into their classrooms and to understand which ICT resources are appropriate for their settings.
Understanding the ecosystem requires an awareness of culture and gender norms, as well as a consideration of the complex lives of girls and women and their unequal access to resources and influence. Ms Ninsiima also highlighted that with regards to gender, DOT is playing their part and have developed a gender strategy that ensures equal participation of young women, and includes training and activities that help to build female students’ confidence at the same time as building their skills.
Benefits of the Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT)
Women’s full participation in the innovation ecosystem, accelerates the possibility for innovations to meet the needs of women, their children and the communities, yet social norms and behaviors concerning how women engage with technology often stand in their way. A study commissioned by HDIF and carried out by Newcastle University (UK) examined whether DOT’s inclusive approach had made a difference.
Their findings bring to the surface some underlying attitudes related to gender. According to a focus group discussion with young male students at VETA Kihonda, the respondents believed that girls lack self-confidence because of their ‘nature’ and don’t engage with ICT because their families can’t see why they should use computers. Respondents from both DOT programs speculated that young women begin the training with a weaker sense of self-confidence than young men due to less exposure to, and experience with, computers, or because of societal norms towards girls and women using technology. Interviews with women students and teachers suggested that the lack of confidence is related to a persistent stereotype that technology is a male domain.
The HDIF survey also found that once women overcame their initial fears and started to engage with the technology and demonstrate their ability, their self-confidence improves. One female student from VETA Kihonda remarked “we are absolutely 100 per cent confident. We even help the boys.” ReachUp! has engendered positive changes in behaviors and attitudes between female and male students are encouraged to work in mixed groups during classes. Both men and women in the focus groups commented that women’s ICT skills are sometimes better than men’s, and that all members of the group are willing to help each other. DOT trainings have led to positive impact within the homes of some students as testified by a young woman studying at VETA Morogoro “our families see us as heroes, having learned new skills. My family is very receptive and encourages me to apply the skills I have acquired.”