Home to innovation and an increasing population of youth, Africa has a lot to offer regarding its ever-growing human capital. According to the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), Sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s youngest population, with 60% of its population less than the age of 25 and a projected two-third increase in Africa’s working class by 2030. To succeed, these data indicate the need to strengthen youth involvement as part of the fundamental ICT capacity across Africa, which must truly begin with youth participation.
However, a significant challenge lingers in developing the youth and positioning them for success in the area of ICT. When compared to counterparts in more developed regions or countries, African youth experience more challenges in the race to becoming digitally skilled, innovative, and business-ready entrepreneurs.
ICT to Drive Development In African Youth
In Africa, adopting ICT skills have taken a toll, yet rising successes are being recorded. Promising startups founders have weathered the storm to drive change in different sectors through various ICT initiatives. According to Google and the International Finance Corporation via the e-Conomy Africa 2020 report, tech talent in Africa is at a historical peak and continues to rise, with more than 50% growth concentrated in Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa.
In Zimbabwe for example, a biomedical student and software engineer named Freeman Nchari has launched the Tumelo app, an application that uses a WhatsApp bot to map and build a database of polling stations across the country. The aim of the app is to protect polling agents by mapping precise coordinates towards the coming 2023 general elections. Another youth on a mission in Africa is set to revolutionise medicine using African DNA. Abasi Ene-Obong is a young Nigerian and the founder of 54gene, a health technology organization designed to advance the state of precision medicine to Africans. Furthermore, a 16-year-old prodigy, John Oseni is challenging the status quo by positioning himself as a renowned frontend and blockchain developer globally.
The instances above reveal the promising role of ICT in fostering youth development throughout Africa, reemphasizing the key responsibilities that access to ICT skills play in ensuring young minds can feature in an enabling environment using their innovative acumen.
Equally, access to educational resources such as edtech platforms, can boost ICT innovativeness among youth by playing a key role in developing ICT-led solutions. Platforms like Coursera, Udemy, Skillshare, etc., have stood the test of time by changing the way educators and students learn, helping to develop industry-relevant skills for the global market. Overall, the influx of ICT- enabled networks is changing the narratives for African youth and widening the benefit of increased communication and way of life.
African Youth Leading the ICT Drive
If youth are adequately empowered with ICT and entrepreneurship skills, there is a higher chance that there will be improved quality of life for generations to come, including women. Lately, edtech hubs are springing up as a measure to secure the future of the continent and to provide relevant skills to support youth in capacity building development.
With a mission to equip 1 million talents with digital skills and jobs within the next 5 years, Edtech hub Ingressive for Good is famous for their drive in sustaining the human capital of tech talents, industry professionals, and entrepreneurs. Similar organisations are leading the African voice to a global stage through capacity building.
In the same vein, AfriLabs, a leading network organization of over 300 tech hubs across 50 African countries, is providing youth with an opportunity to acquire digital skills, business support and funding as well as physical co-working spaces for beneficiaries to work independently. Such innovation models have been observed to attract youth within academic and creative institutions, digital nomads, freelancers and entrepreneurs.
Main Gaps in ICT4D
One major gap hindering rapid advancements among ICT-driven youth is gender inequality. This has not only led to deepening biases but has boosted cultural barriers and societal constructs against women in tech settings and resulted in much lower participation of women in ICT upskilling compared to men. According to Built In, women make up a smaller portion of tech popularity in comparison to men, with women taking up only about 14% lead in software engineering and 25% of computer science-related roles. In Africa, only 30% of tech professionals are women. This data emphasizes the need to increase women participation in ICT but encourage their interest in digital upskilling from a young age.
Other major challenges include lack of connectivity, high poverty levels, myths, and inadequate learning infrastructure. One way to improve youth contribution to building a prosperous society is to make access to ICT opportunities and digital devices, affordable.
Promoting ICT4D at the Grassroots
An important way to tackle underlying gaps and strengthen youth participation in ICT is by catching talents young. Sensitizing young minds right from their early days is more important to promoting ICT-led development now than it was years ago.
While we agonize perceptions that tech skills are better suited for males and advanced degree holders, today we can introduce ICT in primary and secondary levels, where girls can equally acquire future-of-work skills and cultivate interest in STEM careers from an early age. Other countries in Africa can adopt Kenya’s DigiSchool programme, a good example of how ICT can be introduced at an early stage. The DigiSchool programme was rolled out by the Kenyan government in 2016 to deliver over 12,000 free digital learning devices to public primary schools pre-loaded with interactive content for digital learning. Another commendable example is Theirworld’s Skills for Their Futureprogramme held in several countries including Tanzania and Kenya, which provides digital literacy, coding and entrepreneurship education to young female secondary school students.
In conclusion, according to the 2030 Skills Scorecard, over half of the world’s young people may not have the skills necessary for ICT-based employment by 2030. What this implies is that the rapid rate of technological advancement will require urgent action to strengthen skills and capacity building of youth now more than ever. As a continent with a large proportion of youth, implementing ICT at school level will help prepare the next generation of entrepreneurs, academics and innovators and ensure they are not left behind in the current wave of ICT for development.
- Chimgozirim Nwokoma, How technology is helping African youths gain skills for employment and entrepreneurship, 2021, https://techpoint.africa/2021/07/15/technology-employment-entrepreneurship
- Digital Learning Programme in Kenya Schools, 2017, https://villageimpact.com/digital-learning-programme-in-kenya-schools/
- Eneza Media, Kenyan Government rolls out Digi-school program to 150 primary schools, 2016, https://enezaeducation.com/kenyan-government-rolls-out-digi-school-program-to-150-primary-schools/
- Business Insider, How AfriLabs has accelerated a thriving innovation economy in Africa, 2021, https://africa.businessinsider.com/local/markets/how-afrilabs-has-accelerated-a-thriving-innovation-economy-in-africa/5m4l6h3
- Theirworld, Digital skills project changes the lives of schoolgirls, their families and their community, 2022, https://theirworld.org/news/digital-skills-project-changing-lives-of-school-girls-tanzania/
- Ingressive for Good, https://ingressive.org/about/
- How to fix the low participation of women in tech, 2018, https://techpoint.africa/2018/03/08/gender-inclusion-tech
- Vanguard, African women in technology, Apr 2022, https://www.vanguardngr.com/2022/04/african-women-in-technology/
- Theriworld, Scorecard shows millions of young people will not have skills they need for future jobs, Sep 2019, https://theirworld.org/news/scorecard-shows-lack-of-youth-skills-for-future-jobs/