ICT opens doors for Kenyan slum dwellers

By Semaj Itosno, Nairobi, Kenya

A Nairobi-based initiative is equipping high school girls in Nairobi's slums with ICT skills to help them participate meaningfully in building the economy.

Even as the world celebrated the day of girls’ in ICT on 25 April, the number of schoolgirls opting to study technology-related disciplines has been noted to be on the decline in most countries, including Kenya.

With part donor and part out-of-pocket funding, 18 girls were feted following completion of a year-long training that sought to bridge the skilling gap for high school graduates; part of  growing efforts to encourage girls and young women to consider careers in (ICT). 

Drawn from the city’s Mukuru and Kibera slums; the girls were trained in programming, computer literacy, enterprise skills and graphic design.

“We were drawn to these girls from the moving stories we captured during our mobile computer classes in the slums. We discovered that most if not all would end their education just after form four since their parents couldn’t afford to support them to the next stage”, Said Linda Kamau –Akirachix Training Project Lead

With the industry’s recognition of the gap between ICT adoption by girls and boys, there is need to empower more girls and women by teaching them to lose the fear of technology.

“Currently, our country is basking in recognition and appreciation of a robust tech. scene, but we only have a handful of women making an impact in this field” said Kamau.

“The other challenge is that we may get too absorbed into these developments that we forget to empower the next generation of technovators to carry the mantle. That is why we need to invest in sound knowledge transfer mechanisms through education, training and mentorship," added Linda Kamau.

Akirachix, an all-girl ICT group, has been training at least 20 girls annually from Nairobi slums since 2010, in what was a mobile computer literacy class in Dandora then. It grew into a formal class in 2011 after 30 girls were admitted to the course from Kawangware, Deep sea, Mukuru and Kibera.

This year’s programme started in March 2012 after a rigorous interview process to select the 20 beneficiaries of the free programme, which is based on all-round curriculum.

Classes are held daily and the girls receive mentorship and personal support, in addition to ICT skilling, in order for them to get the most out of the training.

“Teaching the girls about computers and building their appreciation of science is one thing, but we cannot achieve much when they have to withdraw from class to attend to personal issues. We therefore ensure that we facilitate school attendance with things like bus fare so that they don’t miss class, and give them personal effects for proper hygiene," added Kamau.  

In the next year, Akirachix looks at enriching the curricula to include financial literacy and psychosocial support in addition to seeking collaborative input of stakeholders such as the KNEC in recognition of the training.

Training and Mentorship are just some of the areas Akirachix is looking at to grow an interest in ICT with the belief that  IT skills shortages and youth unemployment could be addressed by encouraging more girls to consider careers in IT right before completing high school.

The Fourth Thursday in April every year is set aside by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for observation as  ‘Day for Girls in ICT’- and this year’s theme was “Women and Girls in Technology- Expanding Horizons”. Locally, the day was celebrated on Saturday 26th April,2013 at the I-hub with a mentorship open Day for girls drawn from high schools around Nairobi.


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