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How do we actually create transformative change to reach gender equality?

Students work on laptops in a classroom
Associated Press/Elaine Thompson
Second grade students help kindergarteners on programming during their weekly computer science lesson at Marshall Elementary School in Marysville, Wash.

The United Nations recently convened the Transforming Education Summit at the 77th UN General Assembly in New York. COVID-19 set us back tremendously from development goals and education is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet for so many of the challenges we face today. The summit spotlighted the urgency to act fast to transform education, calling for political ambition, actions and solutions to do so.  

It was arguably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for key stakeholders to come together and map a new path for education, a milestone in the roadmap for achieving sustainable development in quality education worldwide.

Sadly, we missed the chance to truly transform education. We failed to learn from the mistakes of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, established in 2000. Neither then nor now did we set rigorous, strong, ambitious goals, objectives and metrics of success.

Trillions of dollars lost because lack of investment in educating girls

Oct. 11 marks the 10th anniversary of the UN’s International Day of the Girl, a moment to increase attention on issues that matter to girls among governments, policymakers and the general public. It’s helpful to reflect what has — and hasn’t — worked in our collective effort to give girls a global voice and stage to be heard. What do we need to do to be advocates in this effort to build the world we want to live in?

There is tremendous evidence that investing in education, particularly for girls, results in significant long-term benefits in economic growth, health outcomes for individuals and the community, greater peace and stability, greater innovation and even reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. According to the World Bank, limited education opportunities for girls costs countries between $15 trillion and $30 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earnings.

Technology empowerment is far more than having a mobile phone

Gender inequality is a universal challenge, but it’s particularly pronounced in the tech industry — women account for less than 10 percent of the industry.  While advancing gender equality is one of the UN secretary-general’s six calls to action to transform human rights, metrics for measuring how we get there are missing. We still measure empowerment of women by how many women own mobile phones. That needs to change.

We need to rethink how we educate and empower girls worldwide, moving beyond just basic literacy or ownership of phones. We need to measure success by the number of women who are actually developing technology, leading innovation in their respective communities and driving progress along the way.

And, crucially, we need to set quantitative goals for tracking how well we’re doing. This is a totally solvable problem. To start, there are 900 million girls in the world. Just as we have set basic literacy targets for children, we can set empowerment targets for girls. We can envision a platform that provides evidence-based, technology entrepreneurship training to all girls, connecting them with mentors and supporting them to tackle real-world problems using cutting-edge technologies. Why can’t we set a goal like that — and then build alliances to accomplish it over the next 10 to 15 years?

It takes a village to provide transformative tech education: Let’s start with 25 million girls

We can do this collectively as part of a bold strategic plan that seeks to start a movement toward lasting gender equity in education worldwide.

Technology and AI training, plus equipping girls with the skills of the future and an entrepreneurial mindset are the vehicles to drive transformative change and impact.

We can do so by empowering thousands of girls as technology innovators and entrepreneurs around the world. My organization, Technovation, aims to reach 25 million girls with this model with the support of corporate partners. Fifteen years of data shows us that tech-entrepreneurship experiences have a lasting impact on the attitudes, beliefs, higher education, and career choices of girls. In fact, 76 percent of Technovation alumnae are pursuing STEM degrees, 60 percent of alumnae are working in STEM careers, 50 percent of alumnae are leading change in their communities and being honored.

Remember, there are 900 million young women in the world. This offers a concrete target for an alliance of partners (industry partners, advocacy organizations and governments) who want to take significant action towards gender equality. And there are already organizations leading this charge: Jacobs Foundation aims to reach 5 million schools by 2030. Mastercard Foundation aims to empower 20 million girls across Africa, in entrepreneurship. We just need 35 similar partners to reach all 900 million girls. We can do this.

We have a way to go to reach the nearly 1 billion girls worldwide who need our support. But we have the technology, the knowledge and the will to do this. We just need to set bolder goals.

This International Day of the Girl, take a moment to consider how you can stand for gender-transformative education worldwide. We all can play a part: Our future depends on it.

The UN plays a key role in all of this. Dag Hammarskjöld, the second ever secretary-general of the UN said this about the organization. It reflects the vision to effect real, lasting change that is possible when we define what we want out of it, noting, “Everything will be alright when people stop thinking of the United Nations as a weird Picasso abstraction and see it as a drawing they made themselves.”

Tara Chklovski is the CEO and founder of global tech education nonprofit Technovation building a movement to reach and support 25 million girls and young women to become technology leaders and entrepreneurs in the next 15 years. Technovation has partnered with Shopify, ServiceNow, TE Connectivity Foundation, Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, Vianai, The Spectris Foundation and Ericsson.

Tags Education girls education Human rights International Day of the Girl Technology

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