Earlier this year, UNESCO partnered with ‘Technovation’ (a non-profit tech education organization) to launch the Technovation Idea Lab, a free, five-week online program that taught female students aged 10-18 years important computer programming skills in artificial intelligence (AI) development.
In the course of the program, more than three thousand girls from Brazil, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, and Pakistan took part, and more than 250 ended up submitting a final project. Of these students who completed the project, seventeen were from India. For their hard work and efforts, they were selected to receive a small prize from UNESCO.
The aim of the project was simple – over the five weeks, the students had to learn the essentials of how AI systems already work in the world, and then identify a problem in their respective social environment and propose a way they could use an AI system to address it. Successful students were expected to create a prototype of their proposed solution through a short video, a drawing, and some basic machine learning code that could be applied to the problem.
One student, from Uttar Pradesh, imagined an AI system that would use data from sensors and the nearby plant life to quickly detect whether water from a particular source is clean for drinking.
Another student from Tamil Nadu proposed using AI to bring speed and objectivity to judicial proceedings by aiding judges.
Yet another student from Bangalore, noting how many of her peers are struggling with mental health issues, used her project to imagine an AI-based app that could help teenagers recognize the anxiety they might be dealing with, and provide some encouragement and mindfulness techniques.
The joint UNESCO – Technovation initiative came at a time when girls are facing even more barriers to education than usual. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought mass disruption that has affected every student; but it is marginalized demographics, among them girls, who face the biggest impact in education access and quality when the system as a whole is placed under strain.