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“There is no tool more effective for development than the empowerment of women.”

-Kofi Annan

There is no doubt that education in general, and female education in particular, remains a high priority for most developing countries. The old adage holds that if you educate a woman, you educate an entire family and by extension the entire nation. Substantial evidence backs up this assertion, showing that rising rates of female education help drive economic growth and food security.

Educated mothers are healthier and less likely to have malnourished children. They show greater participation in the formal job market and earn more income. Educated mothers tend to have fewer children and are more likely to provide them with better education and healthcare. In other words, a nation that educates its girls and women is likely to be a healthier, more productive and more economically progressive society.

While these are all laudable goals, substantial barriers still exist when it comes to female education in developing countries. Some are more general in nature – not enough schools or teachers, low standards of education, or the inability of families to pay for schooling. However, girls and women can also face socio-cultural barriers to education. Their families may feel that it is more appropriate for them to remain at home and tend to their households. Safety concerns may also prevent them from attending educational institutions.

While governments and private organizations alike have launched several initiatives to address these issues and boost female education, what more can be done to address the existing gaps and increase access? One of the biggest tools that can help drive these initiatives is technology. Today, the world of learning has been transformed by the advent of technology, especially through digital education and Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), which have lowered barriers and have made quality education from reputed institutions available to millions of learners worldwide.

How can MOOCs help women, especially those in developing countries?

  • Women can now access educational material within their homes, using nothing more than a smartphone with internet access.
  • They are no longer dependent on local educational institutions, especially important for women in remote or rural areas.
  • They are free to study subjects of their choice, helping to broaden their educational horizons.
  • They can leverage their learnings to obtain better paying jobs.
  • Women who have taken a career break, for example to raise their children, can now use MOOCs to stay on par with their employed counterparts, paving the way for their eventual re-entry into the workforce.
  • Women now have a platform to interact with learners from across the world, sharing opinions, gaining insights and developing a broader view of the world.

No nation can progress unless every citizen is able to avail of their fundamental rights, including the right to an education. Harnessed correctly, the undeniable power of MOOCs can help women in developing countries make great strides towards becoming active, empowered citizens and agents for change.

(Pic: Rangoli design by IIM Bangalore staff as part of Women’s Day Celebration)

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