“Don’t Deny Us Access to Mobile Phones” Say Teens

The two girls who have been out of school for two years say the restrictions on access and ownership of mobile phones to school-going pupils has adversely affected adolescent girls.
20 Oct 2021 15:46
Pauline Nakanwagi and Sumaya meeting UNFPA Representative in Uganda Suzanne Mandong

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Girls should not be denied access to mobiles phones but should be empowered on how to appropriately use them so as to close the digital gap. It is a suggestion by Kampala-based girls, Pauline Nakanwagi and Sumaya Nanyanzi.

The two girls who have been out of school for two years say the restrictions on access and ownership of mobile phones to school-going pupils has adversely affected adolescent girls.

  While 16-year old Pauline Nakanwagi agrees to the fact that some of the digital devices are exposing the girls to pornography, she says if well used, they can help the girls to empower themselves with information.

“I would like to call upon fellow girls out there. One of the things I know that it may lead to teenage pregnancies.  Of course our parents should also come in and give us advice and guidance on these digital tool especially in this digital world” says Poly Nakanwagi

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She says some girls have been fallen victim of defilement, teenage pregnancies and generally early sexual debut because boys and men promise them gifts in form mobile phones.

 “So proper guidance is needed to our girls and women out there as they are in the digital world using the digital tools. As parents talk to your girls, “said Nakanwagi

Nakanwagi says she has managed to overcome some of the pressure from men and boys during the lockdown because her parents have allowed her access to digitals devices as well as opened a line of communication about sex and sexuality issues.

“What I like about my mum, is that she is always open to tell me about what is happening in the world. She will be free you know. She is like Pauline you know what? I know that you are now growing up this and this is happening” explains Nakanwagi

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As education systems worldwide transitioned to virtual or distance learning, a daunting digital divide has become apparent – affecting the most vulnerable and marginalised students the most, especially girls.

Reports have found that lack of access to digital technology and training has become an additional barrier for girls and young women in Uganda to continue  learning during lockdown.

The call for access to technologies was central theme for the 2021 the International Day of the Girl Child. The celebrations held almost a week ago was under the  theme  2021 theme “‘Digital Generation, Our Generation”

Speaking at Kololo where the event was held, Dr. Munir Safieldi, UNICEF Representative in Uganda said the world must ensure that girls, especially in developing countries, can reap the benefits of the technological revolution that has reshaped the life of every human being.

“When COVID-19 necessitated unprecedented public health measures such as frequent lockdowns and closure of schools and businesses, societies with advanced digital technology were able to ensure the continuity of learning and economic productivity.Dr. Munir Safieldin

Schools have been closed since March 2020, putting 15 million pupils out of education. Only certain classes with exams coming up have been allowed to return.

The rest will return in a staggered way in the coming months, though thousands of girls will not, many have been married off or impregnated. 

The rapid shift to e-learning prompted by the pandemic has resurfaced long-standing issues of inequality and a digital divide in Uganda that must be addressed by future economic, education and digitalization policies. 15- year old Sumaya Nanyanzi was a student at Julian High School Seeta.

She would be preparing to her senior for exams. Sumaya suffers from sight complications, some of the effects suffered by persons living with albinism. Sumaya says she has personally experienced the extent of digital inequality in Uganda.

“For me, I don’t have a personal mobile phone. Sometimes my sister helps me for studying only. Because I need education though sometimes she says I don’t have data or electricity is done. Therefore, it is a problem because that day I will miss the lesson. I will be there as if they have caned me when they have not” explains Nanyanzi 

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A digital generation should be people that have grown up with easy access to digital information and communication technologies. Such people should over time had widespread access to digital computing technologies.

Sumaya however says the COVID-19 has exposed the reality that most teachers may not qualify for the digital generation. 

“Some of them know computers but some of them don’t know. Now you see, we have ICT or computer lessons. It is only that teacher who is need of teaching ICT. He is the one who know to use it better. These other teachers of ours don’t know how to use it because they are not used” Observes Nanyanzi  

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As pupils at international Schools and some of those where the children of the wealthy the in Uganda switched to online learning, the majority of them sit idle, frustrated without access to technologies needed to bridge the gap.

Mindful of the lack of both access to technology, either through not owning machines, or simply not having an internet connection in their countries, Sumaya Nanyanzi says lessons through television have not worked as expected.

She says while some of the TV lessons have been presented by Television-based sign language interpreters, learners with disabilities like herself have had challenges. ‘For some of us who use spectacles, we face challenges like using those digital tool like the laptops, phones, the TVS. If we remove the spectacles, you can’t see, if you come closer, your eyes will pain and that light can reflect back” said Nakanwagi  

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