By Kais Zribi, General Manager, Middle East and Africa at Coursera
Soha, a digital marketer and entrepreneur from Egypt, used online learning to develop new skills and increase her income after losing her main source of work during the pandemic. With a background in visual arts, Soha accessed courses that were not locally available and relied on online training to learn how to manage a small business. As pandemic restrictions eased, she began to see the positive impact of her education and was able to secure online work in social media and graphic design.
Soha’s story is a testament to the potential of online learning to create equal opportunities for underserved populations, especially women. According to a report from International Finance Corporation (IFC), Increasing women’s access to online learning can improve their economic prospects by helping them develop in-demand skills and enter new career paths. The study found that 30% of female online learners in Egypt have reported positive career or business outcomes after taking online courses, including finding a new job or promotion, setting up a business, or improving job performance. Online learning also produces gains within the larger economy, as in Egypt, one job is created for every 30 people trained on Coursera.
The new research is part of the “Women and Online Learning in Emerging Markets” report from IFC, created in partnership with the global online learning platform, Coursera, and the European Commission. The study uses data from Coursera to quantify women’s participation in online education, identify challenges to greater participation, and provide recommendations for the public and private sector to improve life-long learning opportunities and outcomes for women.
Despite the positive benefits that online learning is having on career advancement and skill progression, Coursera data shows that enrollment by women learners in Egypt stood at 31% in 2021 – a number that hasn’t grown since 2017. This lack of growth is primarily due to low labor force participation and a significant gender gap in internet access, in fact adult women in Egypt are 28% less likely than men to have access to the internet.
“Half of Egypt’s university graduates are women, with less than a quarter of those women part of the workforce,” said Cheick-Oumar Sylla, IFC’s Regional Director for North Africa and Horn of Africa. “Our study with Coursera demonstrates how online learning can help bridge the gap between academic expertise and professional skills, helping women increase their employability.”
Among other key findings in Egypt:
- Flexibility, safety, and family obligations are main drivers for online learning for women, while simplicity and more language options make it more appealing.
- Over 70% of surveyed men and women reported flexibility as the top reason to choose online learning as a personal preference.
- Women in Egypt are more likely than men to be driven to online learning by safety (29% of women, 25% of men), family obligations (27% of women, 13% of men), and commute restrictions (20% of women, 14% of men).
- Women learners in Egypt (over 20%) are more likely than learners in other countries surveyed (India, Mexico, and Nigeria) to list more language options and simpler registration as one way to make online learning more appealing.
- Learners with disabilities are well-represented in Egypt, but there is a need for more accessible learning pathways.
- 21% percent of learners surveyed cited some form of disability, compared to 17% on average for the four countries studied (Egypt, India, Mexico, and Nigeria).
- People with disabilities in Egypt have limited access to the internet. By providing them with access to the latest technologies and flexible, accessible learning pathways, online learning can become a safer and more comfortable option for them.
- The majority of learners in Egypt list affordability as a challenge.
- Over half (53%) of women online learners surveyed in Egypt relied on scholarship and financial aid on Coursera for their online education. Women are more likely to rely on free trials than men.
- Over a quarter of learners surveyed have a household income below the 50th percentile, which is less than 2,000 Egyptian pounds (approximately $127), the national minimum wage.
- Online learning can lead to career outcomes and economic gains in Egypt.
- Since the onset of the pandemic, 32% of all learners surveyed in Egypt found a new job, set up a business, or improved their job or business performance after taking online courses.
- In Egypt one new job is added to the economy for every 30 people trained by Coursera. Improved skills and qualifications create new jobs directly through the creation of new businesses. Jobs are also created indirectly through increased consumption and economic activity driven by higher incomes.
Our study shows that providing access to affordable, accessible, and flexible learning pathways can help build a competitive and diverse workforce that can contribute to the advancement of the economy. Governments, businesses and institutions must work closely to address some of the key challenges facing women in Egypt. Public-private partnerships will be critical to unlock women’s full potential and create more opportunities for them.
The “Women and Online Learning in Emerging Markets” study draws on data from nearly 97 million Coursera learners in over 190 countries, surveys of 9551 learners across Egypt, India, Mexico, and Nigeria who completed at least one lesson on the platform, and interviews with over 70 global learners and industry experts.
For more information, you can download the report here.