At the Grassroots: empowering girls and women through training to bridge the digital divide
Women are the catalyst for change in the society, family and workplace. All women need to feel confident and empowered on the inside to shine outside. Recent data shows that there is still a significant gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. By 2020, there will be an estimated 1.4 million computing-related jobs in the United States alone, and women will likely only fill 3% of these jobs. So, the need of the hour is to tap into the immense potential and develop female talent across the world in IT and computing to address this skills crisis and talent shortage, and to empower and fulfil the needs of the global economy.
For girls to gain a competitive edge in the future of work, they must be educated in STEM and ICT skills at an early age. One way to do this is to begin inspiring, educating and mentoring young girls in ICT through various education and training programmes. These may include free coding clubs and mentorship, which can go a long way to closing the gender gap in computer science programmes at the grassroots levels in schools and communities.
At Vijay Computer Academy (VCA), a global IT education and training institute in operation in India and the United States since 1990, we undertake these types of activities to support IT education for girls in primary school. We foster interest in STEM fields— in particular ICTs— through counselling, hosting seminars and, crucially, providing encouragement to girls so that they can overcome their fears of being alone in class, and dismantling gender stereotypes that prevent girls from pursuing studies in technology (such as the belief that computer science is “too difficult” or “only for boys”).
VCA also prioritizes training more female computer science teachers and fosters female participation in ICTs by encouraging girls and young women to join STEM clubs, attend boot camps and take part in other extracurricular activities through community empowerment projects. In addition to this, VCA also hosts regular IT training programmes in classrooms and in online learning spaces.
VCA’s work has included launching various initiatives on STEM for girls, women’s empowerment through technology training, workforce development and inclusive computer science courses in Indian and U.S. communities for over 28 years. Through our work, VCA has successfully trained almost 16,800 girls and young women (who make up some 60% of VCA’s 28,000 current and former students) in work-oriented skills through our IT education and training programmes.
One of VCA’s most recent initiatives was to offer access to two free coding clubs in Richmond, Texas. These clubs provided training to 48 girls between third and twelfth grade in the fundamentals of computer science, programming logic, Scratch and Python software, and the determination to succeed in IT and computer science as a career over the course of 10 weeks. These initiatives concluded with a graduation ceremony, during which participants were presented with certificates allowing them to display the coding skills they learned and the projects they developed from this training.
VCA will continue this initiative by offering new, free coding clubs to train over 300 girls in Houston, Texas, and surrounding areas in the upcoming months. In addition, VCA is gearing up to create an IT career school in Houston for young girls and women.
Through this work, we will achieve our goal of encouraging more young girls and women to study ICT, carve out successful careers and gain equal access, skills and opportunities in digital spaces and in the tech industry.
About the Author
Shefali Kapoor Patel is the founder and primary force behind the VCA. For over 20 years, she has been a champion of STEM education for girls, women’s empowerment through IT training, gender equality and global transformation. Shefali has dedicated her career to educate, inspire, mentor and sponsor young girls and women to transform their lives in rural and urban areas from India to Texas, and across the globe.
Photo credit: Shefali Kapoor Patel