In Zambia, along with many countries on the African continent, in the past ten years, there has been a great effort to make it possible for all children to get a primary level education. And this has led to a big increase in how many children now attend school.
But it has been found that as children advance through the system, the attendance of girls diminishes. Lack of money to pay the school, inadequate knowledge, adolescent pregnancy and lack of secondary schools are some of the reasons.
But as many studies have shown, the more education girls receive, the better their future lives will be. This in turn will improve the lives of future generations and can often prevent these girls from being married off early.
All about the girls – Girls’ Zone
There is no quick fix to keeping these girls in learning and preventing early marriage. However, making information and knowledge available and understandable is a key factor. This information can help these young girls make better choices, to continue in school and to understand risks like HIV and pregnancy.
UNICEF has introduced the Internet of Good Things (IoGT) into Zambia. This platform uses low end devices and smartphones that can connect to the internet. The Internet of Good Things offers information, free of any charges, and is particularly useful in reaching young teenagers.
Adolescents are encouraged to access this and there is little worry that they will be drawn to less helpful sites or to even enter an online casino which is not really relevant to them. Zambia was, in fact, the first country worldwide to initiate a free-to-access Internet of Good Things site which includes a ‘Facts of Life’ package. So far, last year the platform was accessed by more than 450,000 people.
Girl’s Zone was launched in 2018. This is an information module on Internet of Good Things. It was created to provide information about anything concerning girls: education and health, menstrual hygiene and the risks of HIV.
The results are looking good. Using a succession of questionnaires via their mobiles, UNICEF was able to get feedback on the module use. 94% of the 420 users responded and 82% of those who responded said the information received from Girls’ Zone was useful to them and 12% said it was quite useful.
Another positive result was that 62% of girls said they had shared the information they gained through Internet of Good Things with other girls.
Some commented about what the platform had done for them:
“I had the courage to stop feeling shy to ask any elder about period and I learnt a lot of things that I did not know. And Girls’ Zone is very helpful for people my age 12-16.”
“Yes, on the issue of not going to school when attending. When I had my first period I felt like it was not safe for me to attend classes.”
“I have helped many girls by way of educating them about these things and educate boys also about their attitude toward girls during their periods.”
Girls promoting girls – “Generation Unlimited”
The information provided by Internet of Good Things is helping to empower these young people in Zamia and will help to make real change possible for their country and the wider world.
The “Generation Unlimited – the future is yours” module, provides teenagers with information on how to initiate community projects, create a team, how to organize meetings, public speaking and how to write and connect to the media.
The availability in Zambia of this information on Internet of Good Things shows how UNICEF is helping adolescents, and particularly young girls improve their situation. They have access to the different opportunities that will enable them to develop new skills which will in turn give them better employment possibilities and increase their positive roles as citizens of their country.
Reports show that a large number of users of “Generation Unlimited”, 75%, said they learnt a lot of new ideas and this new information and knowledge gave them the confidence to go out try to initiate change.
For example, “I have been thinking of helping up a few girls from the local church to enroll into primary education. I know that my fiends can come in handy to make this a reality. After reading this, I am convinced my friends and I can start up the project in helping young girls get a primary education”. And, “I have started thinking about what to make that can change the world.”
With the help of Internet of Good Things, young women are now beginning to take active steps in developing community projects, and, at the same time, learning valuable tools and skills that will help them as they progress through life.
The Internet of Good Things platform allows for discussions to take place which also adds to the educational importance it. Stories are shared by the users which show the value of such a platform.
‘Not all of us are fortunate, I used to laugh at girls who used cloths during their periods instead of pads. I really did not understand their situation. Now, using Internet of Good Things I do know better and I have started to donate pads to those less advantaged.”
“I belong to a group that collects pads and gives them to girls in our community who can’t afford them. We have classes now to learn ways that we can improve our society. We all talk about our different skills and how we can make changes.”
There is still room for improvement
The Girls’ Zone and Generation Unlimited – Future is Yours have both been successful and positively received. However, there is still much that can be improved. The young people themselves have offered suggestions on how the platform can be made better.
One suggestion offered was to include multimedia and pictures which would help those with poor reading skills. Another suggestion was for users to have the opportunity to share their own personal stories – this is presently being worked on by the Internet of Good Thinking team.
It was also suggested that UNICEF should make more effort to advertise and promote the Internet of Good Things platform in all places such as on social media. Television, schools and youth clubs and by giving information from door to door. Things are in the works to make this a reality.