In Myanmar, women only account for 35% of the workforce and are largely left out of the growing technology industry. But one young Burmese believes that learning digital skills will help close that gap. She is a messenger of the technological wave empowering many other young people in Myanmar to build the future of their country.
Her name is Thuzar. It means Angel.
Thuzar is one of the 50 girls competitively selected for Tech Age Girls, a program run by Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation (MBAPF) with the support of Microsoft Philanthropies. Thuzar demonstrated the potential for leadership and a commitment to sharing her enthusiasm, talent, and skills with her peers. “There seems to be a life path that girls are traditionally expected to take”, she acknowledges, “but I’m a Tech Age Girl and I’m on a different path”.
Tech Age Girls provides a support system to reduce the disparity in access to technology. It is not a one-time training program but a comprehensive initiative for girls to become leaders. Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation identifies promising female leaders between the ages of 14 to 18 and provides them with essential leadership and computer science skills to get future ready for the jobs of the 21st century. The goal is to create a network of 100 young women leaders in at least five locations throughout Myanmar with advanced capacity in high-demand technology skills.
Trainings are conducted in public libraries, where tablets are traditionally being used twice as much by men and boys as by women and girls. Located in rural or suburban areas, the ten libraries delivering Tech Age Girls curriculum serve monastic students and out of school children who have no opportunity to attend normal schools.
Thuzar was trained by her master trainer, Poe, who became her role model. Thuzar gained skills in web design tools, social media, basic coding and graphic design, the use of the Internet to raise awareness about critical issues, project management and job skills. For her community project, Thuzar designed a program to help primary school teachers keep electronic records of their students and to use the web to design lessons and new activities. In 2017 she applied to become a master trainer. She has since been training local officials on how to use social media to issue flood warnings for the Maubin River. “Now, when I’m training, I have this feeling inside telling me that this is what I’m meant to do, that this is my path.”
Like Thuzar, all Tech Age Girls are fully engaged and committed to the program. Peer learning style at libraries provides girls with team working capability and ﬂexible learning environment.
The Tech Age Girls model proves sustainable and scalable as its competitive format pushes girls to excel, while supporting a collective identity of strong young women who lead in the technology field and become an inspiration for youth in their communities. On average, Tech Age Girls participants train more than 40 other girls, testifying to the spillover effects of the program.
In addition to Tech Age Girls, Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation is delivering a Mobile Information Literacy training and an introduction to computer science based on the Minecraft Hour of Code tutorial, in 22 public libraries. While the initial goal was to reach out to 350 students by October 2017, the Foundation has already trained 485 students as of July 2017. Those beneficiaries can now effectively and securely search information on the Internet and have acquired computational thinking skills that are critical for creating economic opportunities. 280 youth secured employment in the last 6 months as a result of participating in the program.