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OPINION: Lack of ICT skills in Africa is hindering its growth

By , ITWeb
15 Sep 2016

OPINION: Lack of ICT skills in Africa is hindering its growth

Last week the Global ICT Capacity Building Symposium organised by the Telecommunication Development Bureau of the ITU and hosted by the Communications Authority of Kenya was held.

Themed "Embracing Capacity Building Opportunities in the Digital Era," the forum has brought together over 70 world leaders representing governments, industry stakeholders, universities and the private sector to provide insights on how education and training in the field of ICTs will contribute towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across all sectors, following the adoption by world leaders of the SDGs.

"The CBS-2016 is taking place at a significantly crucial time as the world embarks on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. ICTs have potential to accelerate the attainment of the SDGs and it is important to provide opportunities for all, to acquire the specialised skills needed to engage in and benefit from the sector," said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.

The outcomes of the symposium are expected to provide strategic guidance to the national and international community, including ITU, on capacity building in the field of ICT, and on strengthening collaboration among the global ICT capacity building community, as well as contribute to the achievement of the SDGs provide platform to gauge the needs of the market in terms of training and capacity building in the field of ICT.

Challenge in Africa

The challenge in Africa as emerging technologies are increasingly becoming a reality, is that these require different knowledge-sets and skills across all sections of society. Therefore, investment by governments, industry, universities and other higher education institutions in a range of ICT skills at various levels cannot be understated. Not only will this enable increased participation in the economy, but also ensure that digital citizens are created for a digital society.

However, the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) is lagging behind the ITU. Telecommunications is a vital sector in emerging African countries and as a body, the ATU must move forward.

Out of Africa's 54 countries, only five - Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Rwanda and Tanzania - are listed on the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) website as having successfully met the deadline for migration from analogue to digital broadcast.

The process is ongoing in other countries - excluding the Central African Republic Liberia and Libya where the process of digital migration is yet to start - and Djibouti where there is no clear indication of the migration status.

It is crucially important to keep abreast of new developments and emerging technologies in ICT as growth in the ICT sector can transform a country's economy and improve the lives of its citizens. No country is a better example of this than India, which has achieved phenomenal growth in this sector. As of 2010, India could boast of a 64% share of globally off-shore IT services and a 37 % share in IT-enabled services (ITES).

Skills development has been a key driver of this growth. Many African countries want to invest in Information Technology (IT) and IT Enabled Services (ITES) to boost employment and economic growth. African leaders recognise that India has a great deal of knowledge to share to help guide policies and investment in skills development.

Part of the solution was highlighted by Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto. In his opening address at the three-day conference, he urged industry players to use the forum to strike partnership treaties and collaborations to funnel investments into areas that will drive growth in the ICT sector.

I believe that all countries wanted to learn about the IT industry and its impact on the economy. However, an attitudinal shift and different mindset is necessary to nurture this industry.

Foreign investment in ICT

For Africa to embark on a higher growth and development trajectory, it must find ways of encouraging foreign investment in information and communication technology while developing its own ICT skills and infrastructure.

It is crucial for Africa to grow its skills base in order to "acquire the critical mass of human capital to drive a robust knowledge-based economy", and to ensure universal access to broadband and ICT services.

Strategic investment in the ICT sector would allow Africa to play an increasingly important role in the development of new applications and innovations that are relevant to the needs of the continent, which in turn will have a multiplier effect on economic growth.

African countries can provide the innovators for future technological development in ICT that can continue to drive economic and social development on the continent, through developing innovations and applications relevant to the needs of our peoples.

Africans need to consider policy models and interventions that have helped other developing countries to re-position their economic development through their ICT sectors.

Furthermore, the skills in Africa have yet to match the requirements of employers. The school ecosystem from primary to tertiary levels needs to be investigated to identify the challenges. ICT has enormous potential to improve learning methods and the overall quality of education, to offer greater accessibility and mobility and support wider access to continuing education and lifelong learning.

Efforts should be channelled towards ensuring that the youth are fully and constructively engaged in ICT so that they can play a meaningful role in society. Today, ICTs hold the promise of promoting social inclusion, combating corruption, expanding the digital economy and enabling stronger links between citizens and governments, businesses and customers, NGOs and the communities they serve.

Businesses can gain competitive advantage from the exploitation of IT and fostering IT skills. However, the skills categories are diverse and range from programmers, technicians, developers, to designers. Furthermore, the level of computer usage or proficiency varies per qualification

Skills development challenges

There are some major challenges to skills development, the most important being that Internet connectivity is unaffordable for most Africans, coverage and bandwidth is low (broadband is expensive) and the appropriateness and effectiveness of projects needs to be monitored.

ICT training initiatives are still largely dependent on external funding and sustainability is affected when external funding comes to an end. Other challenges are ICT illiteracy—the inability to use digital tools, communication technology and networks to manipulate or relay information.

Cyber-crime and online abuse - pornography, cyber terrorism, the publication of illegal content, cyber prostitution, electronic funds transfer fraud, telecoms fraud, software piracy, identity theft, scamming, hacking and other forms of online abuse are also challenges.

It is clear that there is much to be done before there is any significant breakthrough. Most importantly new learning methods must be introduced at both primary and secondary level schools, the available school infrastructure must be improved and teachers must be properly trained to use ICT in their teaching processes.

Somehow the digital divide must be bridged by encouraging partnerships among public, private and community sectors in support of universal access and creating incentives for service providers to deploy services in rural and underserved areas so that disadvantaged groups can be brought into the fold. ICT must therefore be integrated into lifestyles and cultures.

Governments must place ICT at the core of national strategies - only then will Africa be able to embark on a higher economic growth trajectory which is inclusive of all its citizens.

* By Patrice Baker, CEO and co-founder of Global Voice Group (GVG).

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