The principle that you don’t have to be a mechanic to drive a car can also be applied to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Gone are the days when a computer user needed knowledge of a programming language. On one hand, this is good news for women. It is because women can now use computers without needing computer science qualifications that gives ICTs the potential to enhance women’s education. But, our lack of ICT skills is not praiseworthy. Feminist writers for many years have argued that if more women were engineers and scientists, we might live in a very different world. (Rothschild 1982)
In a review of five countries, Millar and Jagger examined women’s employment in ICT occupations. They found a pattern of a low proportion of female entrants, a significant ‘leaking’ (Alper 1993) of those who enter to other areas of employment, and a ghetto of women in lower paid jobs. How did a new area of economic activity become gendered so quickly? An obvious answer could be that men have seen it as a desirable area and women have not. It is often said that new industries are both ‘gender blind’ (i.e. if you are good at your work you’ll succeed whatever your gender) and that they value ‘feminine’ communication and ‘people’ skills. But recent research does not bear this out. A study of a new high-tech ICT company (Woodfield 2000) employing highly qualified graduates showed that men were given management responsibility despite an acknowledgement by the company that they had poor management skills. And there was an unwillingness to give responsibilities to women who had these skills. It seems that jobs acquire gender quite quickly in some sectors.
In the 1980s and 1990s, interesting studies were done into the ways in which men and women think about the world. They argued for the validation of diverse ways of thinking, rather than a hierarchy with a particular kind of male intellectual tradition at the apex. Turkle (1984; 1996) has done similar work on the ways people interact with computers. She sees computers as tools used as an extension of our identities, with significant variations in the ways that men and women use them to explore and perform their gendered identities. This subtle way of understanding our relationship with this technology, however, must go in parallel with a materialist view, which is that an underlying motivation for most ICT-based initiatives in work, education, leisure, citizenship is economic force.
We must also differentiate between the opportunities for employment offered by ICTs, and the tools they provide for education. We must beware of the inappropriate application of ICTs to a problem that would be better addressed in another way. Research into the effectiveness of ICTs as measured by student performance in Maths, suggests that for young children there is a negative relationship between classroom computer use and Maths performance. One researcher, Angrist, from MIT found when examining ICTs in the classroom that the set-up costs were obvious and the benefits much less so (Economist 2002). It could be more effective to have more teacher involvement and lower class sizes.
In 1963 Clark Kerr, the President of the University of California, coined the term ‘multiversity’, to suggest that universities were no longer based on a body of universal knowledge or a heterogeneous body of students. Higher education, professional education and life skills education are now being delivered by a variety of different universities, colleges and commercial companies. The distinctions between these are breaking down. Just when women are getting equal access to higher education and professional education, what constitutes higher level education and valid scholarly activity has been called into question through the creation of virtual universities. On the other hand, women are often claimed to have the most to gain from these new flexible and distributed kinds of education.
Although online education provides new opportunities for women it is also the source of new pressures. The term ‘Second Shift’ was invented to identify the work/life balance of employed women. Women in paid employment did not substitute this for their domestic work; they struggled to carry out both obligations. Kramarae sees education in the new century as the ‘Third Shift’: ‘As lifelong learning and knowledge become ever more important, women and men find they juggle not only the demands of work and family, but also the demands of further education throughout their lives. ’ (2001)
ICTs – the Internet in particular – are seen as providing global access to key educational resources. However, access to information is a useless resource if you don’t have the skills to evaluate and use it. Shade (2002) distinguishes between the feminisation of the Internet, where women are targeted as consumers rather than citizens or learners; and feminist uses of the Internet where women develop content that creates opportunities for women.
Digital media may also produce inflexibility for women engaged in learning. A survey of open and distance learning students (Kirkup and Priimmer 1997; Kirkup 2001) demonstrated differences in the preferred learning styles of women and men. Women were uncomfortable with isolation and stated a desire for connection with others. Engagement in creating and maintaining networks and relationships is often cited as a reason why computer-mediated communication will be a ‘female’ technology. Unfortunately, however, empirical work challenges this. Li (2002), in a study of university students in the UK and China, found that male students used e-mail more frequently, spent more time online, and engaged in more varied activities than women students. There is now a wealth of research on the gender differences of male and female online activity, all of which demonstrate the online environment creating a gendered world operating in similar ways to the material world.
Look at the following people (Questions 27 – 34) and the list of reported findings below. Match each person with the correct finding, A-K. Write the correct letter A – K in boxes 27 – 34 on your answer sheet.
List of Reported Findings
A Men and women perceive their environment differently.
B The advantages of ICTs in schools are difficult to specify.
C Men see ICT as an exciting new area of employment.
D Female students find working on their own unappealing.
E A greater female representation in scientific and technical posts would have enormous benefits.
F Women can be seen as both passive and active users of ICTs.
G Female students can benefit most from ICTs and distance learning.
H In Higher Education, men use a wider range of ICT skills than women.
I A considerable number of women give up ICT posts to work in different fields.
J The way the two genders regard computers reflects the differences in the way they develop their sense of self.
K Certain new employment sectors are soon colonized by workers of one sex.
Complete the sentences below. Choose NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the passage for each answer.
35 The term ‘…………………………’ refers to a company that is equally happy to promote workers of either sex.
36 It is clear that ICT developments in most fields are driven by…………………..
37 The range of institutions providing high level instruction today is known as a…………………..
38 Women who are working find it hard to get their………………………..right.
39 The way workers of both sexes now face having to fit children, work and continued learning into their lives is called the………………….
40 Women are thought to be suited to computer work as it involves developing………………………and………………….