Researchers examine information technology issues in Kenya

The "digital divide" and "brain drain" in information technology have affected the U.S. since the mid-1990s. Kenya and other African nations are now facing those same problems more than a decade later as their IT infrastructures continue to improve. However, researchers found that IT is also being used to improve the quality of life in Kenya in several ways.

Lynvette Kvasny, assistant professor of information sciences and technology at Penn State, and her colleagues published their findings in the paper, "Gendered Perspectives on the Digital Divide, IT Education and Workforce Participation in Kenya," which was published in the May 2008 issue of IEEE Transactions on Education.

Kvasny said the growth of technology in Kenya and other African nations has also spread the gender biases surrounding the topic.

"Much like in the U.S., it seems women are underrepresented in IT, both in the workforce and in education," Kvasny said. "The Western notions of progress, which are often grounded in masculinity, are translated along with the technology itself."

The researchers interviewed 32 female and 31 male students in their last year of the Bachelor in Business Technology program at a Kenyan university. Kenyan women interviewed for the study said they have difficulty finding jobs because employers do not feel they should be working in IT. Their solution to that problem is often to form their own Web-based businesses selling African-made goods — something that Kvasny found both surprising and empowering.

Another positive Kvasny found is that some Kenyans are using technology to give back to their communities.

"IT graduates here tend to be very individualistic, focusing on what jobs they can get or how much money they can make," Kvasny said. "In Kenya, there's a level of social responsibility that doesn't exist in the U.S. The local cultures tend to re-appropriate some of the message they are hearing to fit their own lifestyles and help their peers."

In addition to the gender divide in the IT field, Kvasny said a large gap also exists between rural and developed areas of Kenya.

"Some of the rural areas don't have the necessities like running water or electricity," she said. "So it's hard to support IT when the infrastructure that forms the foundation isn't there."

Kvasny said many IT students in Kenya are graduating with skills higher than what the market is demanding, leading them to find jobs elsewhere and causing a "brain drain" of skilled workers to other countries. While there are no easy answers to these problems, she said it is essential for government and industry to work together to come up with solutions to bridge both the gaps in gender equality and digital technology.

The study authors are Kvasny, Fay Cobb Payton, North Carolina State University, Victor W. Mbarika, Southern University, Atieno Amadi, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture in Nairobi, Kenya, and Peter Meso, Georgia State University.



Last Updated April 05, 2010