2 minutes reading time (429 words)

Important UNESCO report on digital skills, education and gender

Important UNESCO report on digital skills, education and gender

UNESCO and the EQUALS Skills Coalition have launched a report into gender divides in digital skills, and how education can overcome the divide. We’ll start by quoting the introduction from the report, which is entitled I’d blush if I could:

The title of this publication borrows its name from the response given by Siri, a female-gendered voice assistant used by hundreds of millions of people, when a human user would tell 'her', "Hey Siri, you're a bitch."

Although the AI software that powers Siri has, as of April 2019, been updated to reply to the insult more flatly ("I don't know how to respond to that"), the assistant's submissiveness in the face of gender abuse remains unchanged since the technology's wide release in 2011.

Siri's 'female' obsequiousness – and the servility expressed by so many other digital assistants projected as young women – provides a powerful illustration of gender biases coded into technology products, pervasive in the technology sector and apparent in digital skills education.

This publication seeks to expose some of these biases and put forward ideas to begin closing a digital skills gender gap that is, in most parts of the world, wide and growing.

Today, women and girls are 25 per cent less likely than men to know how to leverage digital technology for basic purposes, 4 times less likely to know how to programme computers and 13 times less likely to file for a technology patent. At a moment when every sector is becoming a technology sector, these gaps should make policy-makers, educators and everyday citizens 'blush' in alarm.

The publication explains the role gender-responsive education can play to help reset gendered views of technology and ensure equality for women and girls.

The report covers a wide range of issues related to gender inequality in digital technologies (particularly consumer-level technologies such as voice assistants) and skills. It identifies ways in which the skills gap could start to be closed, at a time when that disparity is moving in the other direction. The takeaway statistics include women being 25% as likely as men to have at least a basic knowledge of computer programming; and - perhaps most shockingly - machine learning research being undertaken at a ratio of almost 9:1.

Perhaps reassuringly, and typically for UNESCO, the report doesn’t just cover the Western world. It explores what we might consider to be more rudimentary technologies too; an example being how the mobile payment service m-Pesa has liberated women in Kenya due to its passing of financial control directly to the end user.

The full report makes for startling reading. It’s available here.
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