ICT Skills Training for Women in Rural Communities in Nigeria
Background of Fantsuam Foundation's Communities Learning Centers (CLCs)
Fantsuam Foundation is a non-governmental organisation that works with rural communities in Northern Nigeria using microfinance and ICTs as tools for poverty reduction. The Foundation works in partnership with these communities in setting up Community Learning Centres (CLCs). The communities provide space and security for these centers while Fantsuam assists in trainings and provides hardware and equipment: a desktop, one space radio, and a laptop.
Thus provided with the basic needs, the CLCs take off with an instructor who holds trainings at the centres. The first centre to kick off was the BayanLoco Community Learning Centre which started training 18 students in October 2000. The Gworok Multi-media was set up in January 2001 followed by the Gwong Multi-Media Centre in October 2002. The last centre was the least successful among the three due to a lingering local political stalemate. Two additional community centres have registered with Fantsuam but their CLCs have yet to start their operations.
The BayanLoco Community Learning Centre has been the most successful among the CLCs and received the first African Hafkin Prize. Part of the monetary award was set aside to provide scholarships to women and girls who enrolled in IT skills training at the Centre. A total of 20 scholarships were awarded, and since the completion of the training, it has become a preferred centre for female computer training. It now boasts of an increased enrolment of women and girls than men. The BayanLoco Community Learning Centre has so far trained 120 students: 45 girls, 15 women, 5 children, and 55 boys. Thus, the Gender Evaluation Methodology (GEM) was welcomed at Fantsuam and seen as an opportunity to further develop the Foundation's activities.
The review led to the establishment of Nigeria's first rural ISP and its first rural networking academy at one of the CLCs. It also led to the establishment of two computer training facilities owned by local champions who originally meant to run community-owned enterprises.
The overall objectives of the evaluation were further refined:
- to ensure that services provided in the CLC empower women and girls
- to ensure that women and girls from different ethnicities and religions at the CLCs are well-represented, such being a policy of Fantsuam Foundation
- to improve the standard of services provided at the CLCs
- Most women are preoccupied with their domestic responsibilities.
- Women have no access to the facility.
- No local content has been generated.
- Resources of women are limited.
- Most women are illiterate.
- The Centre opens on a time schedule that is unfavourable to women and girls.
- How do the women and girls use the facilities in the ICT unit to transform their lives?
- What are the other alternative sources of acquiring access to ICT facilities?
- How can local content be generated to assist women's training in ICT skills?
- Has the training made any contribution in bridging the gap in ICT skills with respect to women?
- Number of women who avail of ICT skills training
- Skills learned by women provided job opportunities for them
- Women can make valid decisions regarding certain health issues that affect their families
- A change on the level of women's status and self-confidence within the community
The criteria used in choosing the participants were:
- Strong desire to learn and develop skills
- Need for an independent source of income for women
- Interested in IT; even only the basics
- Desire to own a personal computer and learn to type her own documents
- Self-employment by opening a business center
- "I want to be computer literate because we are in a computer age"
- To secure well-paid jobs, especially in a private sector company
- To become a computer instructor
- To enhance prospects of promotion at present place of work
- To qualify for higher professional training
For the Interviews:
- When/where did you first hear about the computers? Video skills?
- What were the benefits of the training you received?
- What new things did you learn from the training?
- How difficult or easy was it for you to understand new things?
- What was the language used for training? Would you have understood the training better if another language was used? If yes, what language?
- Computer knowledge and skills are becoming more and more important. How do you think this will affect Kafanchan?
- Will computer training make any difference to people's lives in this community?
- How have you been able to use your skills after the training?
- Have any of your friends or family shown any interest in the training since you had yours? If no, why do you think they were not interested?
|Location||Number of Respondents||Gender||Age range||Year and Place of first contact with computers|
|"||1||Females||"||1997, Umuahia, Abia State|
|"||4||Females||"||2003, Jos, Kaduna|
|"||1||Male||"||1998, at school|
|"||1||"||"||2000, at school|
Skills learned include:
- Creating, saving and printing a document
- Learning to type and format documents
- Data processing and providing training for others
- Video production skills
Twenty-seven percent (27%) of the respondents were not satisfied with the scope of skills covered in the training, and would like to enroll in a more advanced and intensive training.
All the respondents said the training had improved their educational and social status. Some also attributed the training to an improvement of their skills in writing and speaking English.
All participants at the video skills training wanted a repeat of the training and explore opportunities for self employment. However, using their skills for documenting community history and skills was not considered a priority by the participants.
Increased access, particularly for women, to ICT facilities through IT training:
Before the offer of scholarship to females for IT training, attendance at two CLCs (BayanLoco and Kagoro) showed that only 25% of the users were females. A few months later, both centres recorded higher female enrolment than males. The reasons for the initial situation were disclosed during a focus-group discussion with women users:
- They indicated that females were yet to be convinced of the immediate relevance of the facilities to their daily lives.
- The time schedule when the resource centres open is in conflict with the domestic priorities of the women.
- Some of the women observed that the style of instruction was too classroom-oriented, which adversely affected their confidence and refused to get involved. They suggested that more hands-on training and a less formal teaching style will reduce the level of technophobia for some women.
- The absence of other NGOs willing to provide similar services in rural communities meant Fantsuam Foundation's inability to cope with requests from other rural communities that wish to start their own learning centres.
Lami was a full-time housewife who had to be dependent on her husband for all her financial needs until she attended a basic computer literacy course at Fantsuam Foundation. This training qualified her to get a paid job, earn some money and achieve a level of financial independence. Since then, her social standing and self-confidence has improved tremendously. She no longer considers herself 'unproductive' and dependent, and has also been able to take on additional responsibilities in her household. This new development was a welcome assistance to her husband whose source of income has become unstable.
Murna was a small-time trader in the market, selling grains before she took basic computer literacy training. The training also qualified her to get a paid job which she is able to accomplish along with her previous business. This additional source of income has made her the proud owner of a moped which facilitates her local travels. Now, the community and her church members show her more respect as a result of her new job and increased earning power.
Of the three CLCs, only the BayanLoco Community Learning Centre has reached beyond break-even point in its earnings and has invested in additional refurbished computers.
The Kagoma CLC has been the least active among the CLCs because of a lingering local political problem. The community was advised to resolve the political problem before engaging in any further expansion plans for their centre. The political issue can undermine community ownership of the facilities unless it is satisfactorily resolved.
Know when to refine expected outputs
The most critical lesson learned from this exercise was the value of acutely being aware and adaptive to the subtle and obvious changes in the community as they affect the ongoing project. The dynamic nature of the project, including its imperative to be self-sustaining demanded adjustments in the original outputs and project strategy.
The outright failure of one of the CLCs and the low performance of a second were early indicators of a flawed business model. It turned out that because these were investments owned by everybody, no one was actually adequately supervising the project. This led Fantsuam to explore working with individual entrepreneurs who are residents within the target community, and have clear vested interests in making a success of their ICT ventures. Two of these entrepreneurs who started their own businesses in their own living rooms had between them trained 15 students within the first two months of operation. Although they charged higher fees than the Foundation would recommend, they did not experience a shortage of students. Thus, along with ICT competence, it is also necessary to emphasize business management skills in running a business.
Be aware of the impact of local politics and power players
The above experiences also showed the importance of being fully informed of ongoing political developments in the partner communities. These developments affect the relative influence and contribution of the stakeholders. Given Nigeria's ongoing democratic governance, these issues are of importance to the success of grassroots ICT efforts.
On another matter, Fantsuam anticipated a problem that might arise on community ownership of CLCs. In two of the communities, the CLC was perceived as a communal property for which there was no specific person who took responsibility for its development. This concept brings to mind a Nigerian proverb that says "Everybody's property is nobody's". The flaw that appears from this idea is having no responsible person to manage and run the CLC. The concept of individual ownership can partly address the problem of responsibility to the CLC. To Fantsuam, it becomes necessary to move from a concept of communal ownership to that of individual ownerships. But, these individuals must be residents of the community, and most importantly, be committed to make the CLC work for the community. By introducing this element of individual ownership and entrepreneurship, with the support of a supervising/mentoring civil society organisation like Fantsuam Foundation, the CLC would have a better chance of growing and meeting the community's needs. It is to address the issue of ownership and sustainability of CLCs that Fantsuam has started an ICT Business Incubation Service.
However, a problem exists even with the draft document. The gender perspective is absent in the document's objectives or strategies. The wide disparity in gender access to and participation in technological education is generally acknowledged, but nowhere in the document is there any mention of examining and addressing this issue. Clearly, the gender digital divide will only become worse when and if this policy gets implemented.
Workshop calls for ICT policy for Nigeria
A communiqué of participants at a workshop on ICT policy advocacy for civil society called the attention of government to formulate an ICT policy for the country. Held in Abuja, and organised by the British Council in collaboration with the Development Information Network (DevNet), the participants declared such a policy should encourage production, consumption and local content. Policy-makers should review existing policies, documents, codes, laws on information, communication and technology in the country as well as appropriation and fair pricing of ICT equipment. An ICT policy should be gender-sensitive and involve youth empowerment.
The participants suggested that regulatory bodies like the National Communication Commission (NCC), National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) should be independent of operators in the technology sector. Regulatory bodies must also be adequately funded by government. In addition, government agencies should harmonise their ICT operations to reduce wastage. Government needs to create an enabling environment for all stakeholders by ensuring "transparency of all stakeholders and for ICT to be included in (the) school curriculum to promote awareness through ICT education," the communiqué also pointed out.
A comprehensive ICT policy in Nigeria, formulated with widespread stakeholders' participation in the policy process, would bring about positive changes in the development of society.
The communiqué was jointly signed by Annie Davies, DevNet executive director and Omowunmi Segun, Information Consultant of the British Council.
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