Socio-cultural practices affecting marginalised girls’ experiences of using technology for learning in low-income countries

Kukulska-Hulme, Agnes and Dawadi, Saraswati (2023). Socio-cultural practices affecting marginalised girls’ experiences of using technology for learning in low-income countries. In: CIES 2023. Comparative and International Education Society Conference, 14-22 Feb 2023, [Online].


Educational marginalisation is pervasive in societies, caused by a combination of several intersecting factors in most low-income countries (LICs). It is a relational and intersectional phenomenon and is experienced or recognised at different levels in different contexts (Pihl et al. 2018). On the one hand, the primordial determinants of social status, such as gender, class and poverty, are still rigid in shaping people’s identity; on the other hand, modern development processes, such as education/schooling and ICT access, interact with these factors, resulting in social inequality and marginalisation of people from different underprivileged social groups. Relatively little is known about their lived experiences in education, especially marginalised young girls’ experiences of using technology for their learning in LICs.

Girls in most LICs are exposed to different forms of social equality issues, gender-based violence, biases, stereotypes, and discriminatory gender norms which create a barrier to girls’ education or career development. Disadvantaged girls are those who come from poor families, are from internally displaced families, are victims of violence, live in remote villages, are part of ethnic minorities, or have special needs. Without education, or without adequate resources to study, these girls are deprived not only of life chances but also of a secure future. Furthermore, technology seems to remain a heavily gendered space. As Tam et al. (2020) point out, gender stereotyping in ICT is a long-standing issue in most LICs. Female students are less likely than male students to have access to digital devices and they use the devices less frequently (Vekiri & Chronaki 2008). Therefore, they are less experienced in using digital devices. Consequently, they may have lower self-efficacy and interest in using technology (Bao et al. 2013). This, in turn, may negatively affect their learning practices and academic achievement, and limit their future career opportunities.

In order to explore how socio-cultural practices affect girls’ experiences of using technology for learning in four target countries (Bangladesh, Nepal, Senegal and Sudan), our research project employed a two-point conceptual framework: access to learning (Spaull & Taylor, 2015) and “zones of exclusion” (Lewin & Little 2011). Access to learning in LICs refers to the educational policies and procedures through which schools ensure students of all backgrounds have equal and equitable opportunities to learn. As there are several educational, socio-cultural and personal factors involved and often intersecting, access to learning is measured through societal and institutional policies and systems put in place to ensure students’ equal access and successful completion of learning. Similarly, “zones of exclusion” enables understanding of inequalities in terms of learning opportunities. The model focuses on students who are silently excluded for some reasons and hence cannot continue learning or achieve the required level of knowledge or competence.

We aimed at capturing marginalised young girls’ lived experiences of using technology for learning and to bring these least heard voices to the forefront – so that they can reach educators, policy makers and the public, promoting further discussions on how to provide marginalised children with better access to technology to enhance their learning, improve education systems and reduce marginalisation. We wanted to give power and voice to our research participants, which may provide insights into their subjective world, i.e., their lived experiences, the way they construct their own identity and perceive themselves, and the ways in which they perceive other members of their society.

We believe that giving power and voice to research participants involves issues of research methodology that can create an opportunity for participants “to express their views freely and contribute to research agendas” (Grover, 2004, p.28). We used a qualitative research design and sought to privilege the voices, experiences, and lives of marginalized children along with their parents and teachers by involving them as active participants in our study. We used semi-structured interviews, focus groups and classroom observation as the main methods of data collection to facilitate conversation and participant engagement. The study involved a total of 256 participants (female and male students aged 13-15 from 8 schools, and some of their teachers and parents).

Our findings indicate that gender inequality exists in the four research contexts for some socio-cultural reasons. Gender discrimination remains deeply entrenched in families and in society, preventing many girls from fulfilling their academic potential and achieving well-being through education. For instance, though girls report that technology helps them improve their learning, they get fewer opportunities to use technology at home than boys and the girls have to follow very strict rules around use of technology. Parents are more concerned about how their daughters use technology than their sons, so they take extra measures to control or monitor how their daughters use it. This practice limits girls’ access to technology and its use for learning. Hence, although gender parity has been recently achieved in enrolment, it obscures inequalities and marginalisation that persist beyond access to education.

This study has contributed to the body of existing knowledge in the field of education in several ways. Firstly, it explored girls’ equitable access to technology for learning in the four countries where there has been very little, if any, research conducted on this issue. Secondly, having collected a very large amount of data (through focus groups, interviews and classroom observations) and then bringing students’, and their teachers’ and parents’ views together about gender equality in terms of access to technology for learning, it has provided a better understanding of the complex nature of gender equity in developing contexts. The emic nature of this study is one of its main strengths. Finally, although there is research on gender equity in education, there is very little research on marginalised young girls’ experiences of using technology for learning. It is most probably the first research study that has explored marginalised young girls’ lived experiences of using technology for learning in and out of school. Therefore, there is potentially a great deal that education stakeholders can learn from this study about marginalised young girls’ perceptions and experiences of gender equality. These are the contributions of this study to the field of education.

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