Caribbean Girls Hack: Tech skills training and competitions for girls to become ICT content creators
Caribbean Girls Hack
Latin America and the Caribbean
Adolescents, Coding, E-learning, Private sector, Robotics, Skills development
Non-formal education and extracurricular contexts, Role models and mentoring
Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago
In the Caribbean, women are under-represented in information, communication and technology (ICT) fields in the workplace as technology creators, and at every stage of the tech journey.
According to UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics, women make up as little as 13% of higher education students in ICT fields in Guatemala and Saint Lucia, 17% in the Dominican Republic and 21% in Costa Rica. It is only in Cuba and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines where the rates are slightly higher at 39% - but this is still only 4 out of 10 students that are women. At the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, while women make up 70% of the university graduating class, they represent only 30% of computer studies graduates.
Immediate action is required to increase the percentage of women studying ICT, and the numbers of those with digital literacy skills. The GSMA Digital Inclusion Latin America and the Caribbean report notes that Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago integrate basic computer skills into the secondary school curriculum; however, constraints include poor internet connectivity at schools and low levels of qualified ICT trained teachers. In the region, girls and women also report lower beliefs in their knowledge of computers and their digital abilities.
Caribbean Girls Hack (CGH) is a regional project aiming to broaden the reach, exposure, hands-on training and engagement of girls with relevant technologies enabling them to become ICT content creators. Participating countries have included Barbados, Grenada, Guyana Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and there has been interest expressed from Belize, the Bahamas and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.
The Hackathon group targets girls and young women aged 13 to 21 in high school, college and university. Girls complete an online two-month immersive webinar and workshop training on ideation, critical thinking, design thinking and tech tools and build cyber safety skills.
This project builds girls’ confidence through mentorship and role models, along with tech expos providing hands-on experiences with robotics and snap circuits, virtual reality, drones, and geographic information systems (GIS) mapping. Tech experts also provided training on coding, podcasting, artificial intelligence, social media campaign design and development, animation, video/documentary production, mobile app development, and delivering a winning pitch. Girls also learn about cyber safety, critically important to tackling gender-based violence in the region.
The approach empowers girls with problem solving, critical thinking, increased leadership capabilities and tech skills they need to harness the power of digital technologies to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). In 2019, the project focused on climate change and resilience and GBV, two crucial areas affecting girls and young women in the region.
This initiative has received support and funding from various sponsors. This includes: Scotiabank, National Commercial Bank and First Caribbean International Bank; international funding agencies such as the Inter-American Development Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank, the Caribbean Export Development Agency and the Development Bank of Jamaica; and Government Ministries and educators through the Caribbean Association of Principals of Secondary Schools.
To date, over 3,500 girls across six countries have been empowered build innovative technology products including websites, mobile apps, short films and videos, podcasts and chatbots and built their skills in robotics and drone technology.
Girls participating in the Hackathon have benefited from the insights of many role models (women and men) working in technology from companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, Google and LinkedIn, as well as National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), IBM, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
The success and high quality of tech solutions presented by the participating girls confirmed the value of extensive immersive online training over three months
Key partnerships exposed girls to increased involvement in ICT networks, via Facebook developers, Google developers and Internet Society (ISOC) Youth
This programme is the first of its kind connecting girls as ICT content creators with internships that lead to permanent jobs
The role model series is very instructive, influencing how girls envision opportunities for a future in tech
Key private sector partnerships will lead to a regional mentorship programme currently under development.
Challenges and solutions
Self-learning is not prevalent in the region. The programme required continuous daily outreach to ensure girls’ engagement. In one country, physical on-site workshops were necessary, which was a major game changer for girls’ engagement and quality of solutions developed
Girls need more non-traditional avenues to empower them in raising their voice
Scalability and other applications
Some key elements to ensure increased scale and replicability include partnerships with public and private entities. Key partnerships with Microsoft edX, Google Education, Udemy, Udacity and others have been critical to ensuring access to curriculum for the hackathon solutions and beyond
It is important to identify a continuous learning curriculum where girls can receive certificates, leading to education credits and work opportunities
Internships and professional placement is a key area for scaling up, especially for tertiary and vocational students
The Hackathon provided mentor-led live workshops for capacity building and technical assistance. The ongoing annual CGH programme generates a stream of innovations and tech solutions supported by local, regional and international corporate sponsors and the implementation of additional individual donor programmes will complement existing sources of funding. CGH and the attendant quarterly training will continue to build a network of CGH Alumni to serve as mentors and local role models, engaging schools and college computer societies for the development of tech solutions.
EQUALS Research Group. 2018. Taking Stock: Data and evidence on gender equality in digital access, skills and leadership. Preliminary findings of a review by the EQUALS Research Group. Geneva: EQUALS Global Partnership.
Forde, R. 2019. Deighton Griffith girls' app, website combo wins at Barbados hackathon. Loop News: 4 September 2019.
International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Caribbean Girls Hack events show digital skills momentum. ITU News: 23 April 2019.
ITU. 2019. Combatting tech stereotypes: Caribbean Girls Hack scales up success in 5 countries. ITU News: 20 May 2019.
Phillip, R. 2019. SAGHS girls dominate at Caribbean Girls Hack 2019. Loop News: 27 May 2019.