• by María Aurora Yáñez, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • May 2003

“I will be a stronger person mentally and physically,” said a young woman at the gender equity issues program held by the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA). The program encouraged young Latinas to talk openly about gender issues while exposing them to technology. It culminated in a video conference for 18 young women from two middle schools in San Antonio.

The need for women to be educated in a challenging, non-hostile environment where men do not dominate the conversation has been established theory by gender research for some time (NCES, 1997). This same principal applies to women and their access to and use of technology.

IDRA implemented this gender equity issues program that integrated computers via PowerPoint presentations, video conference technology and conversations in an interactive approach that strove to motivate, stimulate and invigorate young women.

IDRA staff surveyed the 18 students to determine topics of importance to them. The students responded that, as young women, they are frustrated by not being able to get involved in sports like boys, by teachers not understanding kids, by not being able to explain things to their teachers and by being picked on.

The young women also indicated they were interested in learning more about sexual harassment prevention and women in occupations. IDRA staff met with the young women and discussed their topics of concern. During this initial meeting, the young women were briefed on the program and its objectives. The program was designed for the students to identify gender equity issues in school settings and present them to their peers during a video conference and for them to identify viable solutions for the identified issues.

During a second meeting, IDRA staff continued the previous conversations and helped the young women practice for their video conference. The participants were also asked to complete the PowerPoint projects they would subsequently present during the video conference. All activities were structured to stimulate cooperation, interaction, dialogue, teamwork, public speaking, higher order thinking and creativity while providing hands-on experiences with laptops and digital cameras.

The video conference was held by connecting one of the middle schools with a university facility. The young women were grouped into triads and were asked to discuss and subsequently report on what they had learned regarding gender issues throughout the program. Below are some of the responses:

  • Women need to be encouraged to pursue fields in math, science and engineering.
  • Women need to be encouraged and guided toward doing better in school and getting a college degree.
  • Young women need to speak up for themselves.
  • Young women need to pursue good paying jobs.
  • Young women need to have confidence in themselves.
  • Young women need to avoid giving up their goals just to please others.

Prior to the conclusion of the video conference, the students were asked to discuss what they would do differently as a result of their participation in the program. They listed the following:

  • Respect their bodies and do their best in school and accomplish their goals in the future;
  • Speak out about things in their lives;
  • Respect themselves; and
  • Be more independent.

After the video conference, the middle school Latinas indicated that they appreciated the chance to participate in a video conference and to share their ideas. They also found learning about sexual harassment useful and enjoyed being so talkative and outgoing. Participants liked knowing they were supported and enjoyed the opportunity to get to know young women from other schools.

The reason the video conference and the exercises before and after it were so successful is because the participants were encouraged to view themselves as knowledgeable individuals who had valuable information to share. They were also encouraged to explore, use and interact with technology in ways that allowed them to be in control. The comments from the participants demonstrate the kind of increased self worth young women will need to address many of the gender-related challenges and concerns raised.

One student stated, “I will be stronger, outspoken, self-sufficient and get a good education.” Another said, “I will respect my body, go where I want to go and reach my goals.”

“Women have an interest in participatory education. Many teachers use the sage-on-the-stage model, with the expert informing others about what the expert thinks the others need to know. The teacher has knowledge that he or she imparts to the students. Fundamental knowledge about communication processes is disregarded by many teachers who think about teaching as a pitcher-and-cup action. The teacher pours forth the information which will be received by the students. In this system student participation often is determined by counting (or guessing) the number of times a student asked a question or answered a question. This is as dynamic as it gets. Boys are more likely to be raised to think this is how the system should work – hierarchical control of knowledge. They go through this process and then many of them get to do it themselves as teachers, managers, or bosses. Along the way, they get to talk more in the classroom, because boys are more likely to raise their hands more quickly and are called upon more often.”

– “Critical Visions of Educational Technology,” Suzanne de Castell, Simon Fraser University, Mary Bryson, University of British Columbia, Jennifer Jenson, Simon Fraser University, http://www.shecan.com.

Recommendations from AAUW’s Educational Foundation Commission on Technology, Gender, and Teacher Education

  • Transform pink software: Software does not need to be specifically designated for girls or boys. Software for both classroom and home should focus on the many design elements and themes that engage a broad range of learners, including boys and girls, and students who don’t identify with the “computer nerd” stereotype.
  • Look to girls and women to fill the IT job shortage: Girls are an untapped source of talent to lead the high-tech economy and culture. Curriculum developers, teachers, technology experts, and schools need to cultivate girls’ interest by infusing technology concepts and uses into subject areas ranging from music to history to the sciences in order to interest a broader array of learners.
  • Prepare tech-savvy teachers: Professional development for teachers needs to emphasize more than the use of the computer as a productivity tool. It must give teachers enough understanding of how computer technology works and its basic concepts so that they are empowered users.
  • Educate girls to be designers, not just users: Educators and parents should help girls imagine themselves early in life as designers and producers of new technology. Engage girls in “tinkering” activities that can stimulate deeper interest in technology; provide opportunities for girls to express their technological imaginations.
  • Change the public face of computing: Media, teachers, and other adults need to make the public face of women in computing correspond to the reality rather than the stereotype. Girls tend to imagine that computer professionals or those who work heavily with information technology live in a solitary, antisocial world. This is an alienating – and incorrect – perception.
  • Create a family computer: Among other things, place computers in accessible home spaces. Think about shared or family-centered activities on the computer, rather than viewing its use as an individual or isolated activity.
  • Set a new standard for gender equity: Equity in computer access, knowledge, and use – across all races, sexes, and classes – cannot be measured solely by how many people use e-mail, surf the Internet, or perform basic functions on the computer. The new benchmark for gender equity should emphasize computer fluency: girls’ mastery of analytical skills and computer concepts and their ability to imagine innovative uses for technology across a range of problems and subjects.

American Association of University Women. Tech-Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age. (Washington, D.C.: AAUW, 2000) http://www.aauw.org/research/girls_education/techsavvy.cfm.


American Association of University Women. Tech-Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age (Washington, D.C.: American Association of University Women, 2000) http://www.aauw.org/research/girls_education/techsavvy.cfm

National Center for Education Statistics. Findings from The Condition of Education 1997: Women in Mathematics and Science (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, 1997) http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=97982

Rothenberg, D. Supporting Girls in Early Adolescence, ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education (Urbana, Illinois: ERIC Digests, 1995) http://www.ericdigests.org/1996-2/girls.html

Sanders, J. Teacher Education and Gender Equity, ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education (Washington, D.C.: ERIC Digests, 1997) http://www.ericdigests.org/1998-1/gender.htm

Schwartz, W., and K. Hanson. Equal Mathematics Education for Female Students, ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education (New York, NY: ERIC Digests, 1992) http://www.ericdigests.org/1992-4/equal.htm

María Aurora Yáñez, M.A., is an education assistant in the IDRA Division of Evaluation Research. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2003, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 2003 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]