The impact of COVID-19 demonstrated not only how essential digital literacy is in the modern world, but also the disparity between African nations around availability and education.
As the world recovers from the effects of Covid-19, teachers and business leaders are demanding transformative new measures to ensure Africa’s education system is not left behind. Improving access to electricity and training the continent’s teachers is vital to successfully navigating the ever-changing learning environment.
While working from home became the new normal for digitally established office workers, most Africans had to adapt or scale back their employment, with mixed results.
Digitising the continent continues apace, with 475 million people in sub-Saharan Africa projected to have access to mobile internet by 2025. Video hosting sites such as YouTube became essential resources during lockdown, with how-to’s, self care and simple social connection videos soaring in popularity.
Demanding internet access as a human right, and aspiring to become the next YouTube sensation or digital entrepreneur all begins in the classroom. From Ghanaian classrooms, to Tunisian start-ups, getting better, smarter and more reliable education tools looks set to become a transformational issue for Africans.
89% of learners in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to household computers.
And 82% lack internet access and at least 20 million live in areas not covered by a mobile network. The pandemic has exposed inequalities like these across Africa and within respective countries.
Covid-19 in Africa has exposed a two-tier education problem that requires a two-tier solution.
Teacher training rarely includes information and communications technology (ICT) skills. Combined with restricted availability of electricity and mobile coverage, it's no wonder that digital democratisation, including digital literacy, is not rolling out as effectively as it should.
Even if every child on the continent was handed a smartphone or tablet, limited access to power and internet signal would still impede genuine, meaningful progress. Less than half of the population of sub-Saharan Africa (47.7%) was connected to the electricity grid in 2018.
There is an urgent need to invest in stable electricity supply and access on the continent, particularly in entrepreneurial ventures focused on providing viable, affordable, long-term energy solutions.
Teachers play a vital role in building the leaders of tomorrow, yet they are among the lowest paid public sector workers in many parts of Africa, which is largely disincentivising.
Governments are encouraged to ramp up funding to screen current teachers’ capabilities and retraining them where necessary. Teachers are also demanding better pay, to ensure that they remain motivated and their passion maintained. This improvement can provide better learning environments for their students, helping to unlock their potential.
Focussing on the digital education element is seen by some as a distraction from a larger issue facing African children; access to regular, organised education in the first place.
Girls and young women are less likely to get the education they deserve. In Sierra Leone and Liberia, 95% of young women who finish their schooling after Grade 6 can’t read a simple sentence.
Some global tech companies are attempting to redress the imbalance. Telco company Orange has provided digital literacy skills to more than 40,000 unemployed women across its operating markets in Africa and Europe since 2015, including its Digital Centers programme, hosting coding schools in Senegal, Tunisia and Cameroon.
African countries are already working to bridge the gap; Ghana’s government has launched their 'One Teacher One Laptop' programme, equipping Ghana's teachers with the requisite ICT skills, and over 350,000 laptops, to prepare the next generation for the new digital frontier.
By prioritising digital economic integration, many other nations have also laid out ambitious proposals to improve digital literacy rates for adults as well as children.
Tunisia is undergoing a wave of digitalisation. With a young, well educated and tech hungry population, the nation is seen as one of the most innovative in Africa, and the Arab world.
Often regarded as a talent pool for Europe, the Tunisian government is increasingly promoting opportunities locally by instigating a Startup Act, to spur homegrown innovation and entrepreneurship.
And the impact is finally starting to pay dividends. New coding schools are ever more popular, training up over 5,000 new developers in 2020. AI companies are securing multi-million dollar investment, and the unique European connection looks set to fast track great Tunisian ideas and organisations for the next decade.
Despite the effects of COVID-19, governments across the continent are promising better, more considered investment and support for their young citizens’ bright futures.
With 60% of the continent’s population under the age of 25, education and digital literacy are key to providing the basics to find employment and increase local, national and continental development.
Now Africa must deliver. For today, and tomorrow.