By Catherine Muraga
NAIRBI, Kenya, Jan 31 – Although still in its infancy, Africa’s digital ecosystem has limitless potential to spur economic growth, advance social and gender equality, and provide opportunities for gainful engagement for millions of Africans.
When the African Union was formed 20 years ago, Africa had a 5% internet penetration, compared to 40% in Europe. By 2019, an average of 39.1 percent of the continent’s population was online, with some countries, such as Kenya, having 89.8 percent internet penetration.
With the astronomical growth of internet users over the last decade, increased smartphone accessibility, and digital services tailored to specific needs in different regions, Africa’s digital economy continues to expand rapidly.
Recognizing the opportunity, the AU created a policy context to guide the continent’s digital transformation, which lays out a roadmap for leveraging Africa’s digital possibilities for economic revolution. The African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa aims to achieve significant prosperity and inclusivity for the continent by relying on several pillars, key among them being digital skills and human capacity.
Among other things, the Digital Strategy aims to provide a massive online e-skills development program to 300 million Africans per year by 2025, as well as basic knowledge and skills in digital security and privacy.
Africa is the world’s last and largest untapped market, a significant consumer of digital infrastructure and technologies, and home to a growing young population. According to the World Economic Forum, 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25, and by 2030, young Africans are expected to account for 42% of the global youth population.
As a result, there is a clear need to increase skilling efforts to provide young Africans with the opportunity to contribute and thrive as the continent undergoes a digital transformation.
Digital skills are important for digital transformation because they enable individuals and businesses to effectively use digital technologies to drive business growth and improve operations. Digital technologies are becoming increasingly important in today’s world, and having the right digital skills can help individuals and businesses stay competitive and successful.
Undoubtedly, Africa’s youth must be at the centre of the conversation about digital skilling because they will be the future drivers of change and innovation on the continent. Young people have a unique perspective and the ability to learn skills that will be useful in driving digital transformation.
As a starting point, universities and institutions of higher learning provide fertile ground for sowing the seeds of change in skill acquisition and knowledge transfer. Young people attend tertiary institutions to broaden their skill set in ways that are marketable.
Excitingly, the market for tech jobs in Africa is rapidly expanding as multinational corporations establish themselves on the continent and home-grown start-ups expand to meet critical market demands. Regrettably, even though tech companies are always on the lookout for new talent, they are frequently unable to hire recent graduates because many students only have theoretical knowledge and very little practical experience.
As part of Microsoft, African Development Centre’s campus tours, we encourage students to take up tech related professional courses alongside their degree schoolwork.
With such an approach, fresh graduates armed with appropriate tech related professional certifications, they stand a higher chance of obtaining employment.
For the same reason, universities are collaborating with technology industry organizations to redesign their curricula to better meet industry needs.
For example, Microsoft’s African Development Centre (ADC) is partnering with local universities (both public and private) to review their Computer Science programs. Students studying computer science will benefit from the new curriculum as they will have access to updated resources, courses, and
Furthermore, updated curriculums with industry input will help students gain hands-on tech skills that will be useful throughout their tech careers. Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), one of the prestigious universities in East and Southern Africa is already benefitting from this initiative by the ADC.
This is part of the ADC’s larger agenda to contribute to the Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa and Kenya’s Digital Superhighway Economy strategy, which aims to produce the world’s best digital workforce while also improving the country’s digital infrastructure and digitizing government services. The initiative also aims to address identified skill gaps in software engineering students during technical interviews.
In conclusion, and as we move closer to the Africa Union’s goal of a completely digitally empowered continent, it is time to reconsider how these digital skills are imparted. Whether it is simply to allow Africans to become enlightened and responsible e-citizens, or in developing the next generation of tech professionals, it is time that learning institutions and industry come together to give students the best chance at thriving in Africa’s future.
The writer is the Microsoft Africa Development Centre Managing Director