Social media has become a changing point for women in the UAE. Emirati women have traditionally been restricted to the private sphere while the public sphere has been dominated by men. This private/public dichotomy along with the conservative values of Emirati society has forced women to live private lives. However, since the development of social media, women in UAE have found a way out of the secluded and isolated lifestyles, albeit only virtually. They have found an outlet for them to freely express themselves and make their voices be heard.
For many, it became a secret outlet, a hidden expression of their real selves. Women in the UAE also use social media to reach out to others, interact and share their experiences. Social media has transmitted them from them the ‘private’ to the ‘public’. In doing so, social media is empowering young girls and women.
Several studies that focus on the relation between social media and education have been conducted in recent years.
These studies focused on a mixed group of learners, both girls and boys. Thus, by generalization and by extension, they are applicable to all female learners. For the purpose of this essay, I will focus only on female learners.
The positive impact of social media is not universally accepted. Many people tend to believe that instead of increasing interaction, social media kills human interaction and communication. Many also believe that social media is more distracting than it is educational. And there is some truth to these viewpoints.
A study conducted in Italy found that social media has a limiting impact on education (Manca & Ranieri, 2016). In their study on positive and negative effects of social media, Shabnoor Siddiqui and Tajinder Singh found that the use of social media in the classroom means teachers are not in a position to monitor the attention levels of the pupils (Siddiqui & Singh, 2016).
Siddiqui and Singh also found that quite often social media contains incorrect, inaccurate or even completely fake information. When learners come across such information it is difficult for them to distinguish between correct and incorrect information. Young learners tend to be more vulnerable in this regard. Teachers, on the other hand, have absolutely no way to control the information that female learners encounter on social media. When, in the name of education, students are misinformed, the purpose of education itself is defeated.
Apart from this, studies show that the use of social media can be hazardous to students outside the classroom. Privacy issues, identity theft, misuse of personal information can lead to sexual harassment, cyberbullying and ultimately trauma among female learners which in turn affects their education. A secret online identity might be an ingenious way of self-expression for a girl in a rigid and stifling society. However, the veil of male anonymity can prove dangerous to a girl’s wellbeing. (well-being)
In spite of the abovementioned (above mentioned) drawbacks, research shows that web 2.0 aka interactive websites aka social media is extremely influential in a female student’s learning (Junco, 2011). Social media is capable of engaging female students by building their curiosity and drawing their attention (Blankenship, 2011).
Teachers in the UAE have found that social media websites and apps like YouTube and Pinterest have proven to be immensely useful in education (Alkutich, 2018). Pinterest assists the teachers in lesson planning and providing interesting educational activities for female learners.
YouTube, on the other hand, assists female students in learning and understanding subjects or concepts that would otherwise not be easy to follow. The audio-visuals of a short video do much more to tell a story of history or explain a concept of chemistry than a blackboard does. Social media offers a pictographic way of learning to female students. This type of learning, also known as visual learning, has a great impact on female student interaction in the classroom. In fact, so profound has been the influence of social media in education that Scott Rocco wrote ‘The Taxonomy of Social Media’ in which he classified social media in education into 5 levels, namely curiosity, lurking, understanding, contributing, integrating and engagement (Rocco, 2012 ).
Apart from optimizing students’ learning potential, several social media tools are available that assist students in writing and editing assignments individually and in collaborating on projects as a team. Many social media apps are being used for group discussions and for sharing academic material. Many social media tools also assist teachers in testing students’ knowledge and skills. Social media has also proven to improve test scores among female learners.
But it is not only direct learning that is impacted by social media. A teacher tends to be one of the most inspirational people in a student’s life. And young girls and female students are influenced by the active presence of their teachers on social media (Mahmud, Ramachandiran, & Ismail, 2016). Accessibility to their teachers via social media breaks away from traditional classroom settings and expands the student-teacher means of communication.
Apart from teachers, female learners also come across other successful and inspirational women from their communities and from around the world. It allows them to connect to these women and learn from them. Emirati lawyer, Diana Hamade, the first female lawyer in UAE is an avid Instagram and Twitter user and influencer. She uses her social media platforms to share her expertise on humanitarian issues, law and business. On the subject of women’s (women) empowerment via social media, she said, “The media is our best tool” (Kannan). She believes it is a powerful tool to “reach people”, “inform and educate” and to give a truer depiction of who we are. (Lloyd-Jones, 2018).
Another Emirati female social media influencer, Noura Al Kaabi is an expert at using social media to further her agenda as a parliamentary member. Today she encourages other politicians and governments bodies to use social media to reach the masses and inform the public (Salem, 2014).
Affordance is used to describe what material artefacts such as media technologies allow people to do (Bucher & Helmond, 2018). In spite of the effective use social media by the aforementioned successful women, the truth is that affordance of social media varies depending on the type of user and how they are connected through various possibilities for action. Therefore, as is evident in a regional survey in UAE conducted by Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government, while 55% of teachers are in favour of social media, 56% of parents are against it (report, 2014).
Social media is inevitably the modern way of learning. There is no point of resisting such advancement in the field of education. However, it is vital to deal with the hazards of social media. My project is to set up a rigorous filtration process in UAE. In this process, users would be able to flag incorrect, inaccurate or fake information or items that are misogynistic or a threat to Emirati society. A software that flags such information by means of keywords would also be part of this process. Once such information is flagged, a team will review and filter it. This process would also take care of the problem cyberbullying, sexual harassment and security threat to female learners by completely blocking perpetrating users from the app or website and reporting them to the authorities. Such measures are essential for female learners to feel safe and confident with their web presence and to ensure a positive learning experience.
The usefulness of social media varies depending on the user. Social media is ubiquitous. But more importantly, it allows female learners to be ubiquitous. From events occurring in the USA to the middle east to Japan, social media constantly keeps the learner informed. Studies show that over the past couple of decades the literacy rate among Emirati women has risen higher than that of men (United Arab Emirates Literacy, 2018). Similarly, female graduates comprise of 80-90% of the total student population (Pennington, 2017). While it may not be possible to attribute these developments entirely to social media, female learners’ use of social media definitely correlates with the progress of female learners. Social media has certainly become a tool for women’s education and empowerment.