Digital Literacy in Africa: Empowering the young age for a stronger next generation

The fast evolution of ICTs foreshadows a future of the world with digital preponderance, but the digital divide remains large, especially in the Global South. This makes it urgent to adopt good strategies for achieving in the near or distant future, a digital world that is both inclusive and equitable for all the humankind’s layers. The intensification of digital literacy proves to be one of those challenges which, once taken up, will significantly offset many others to make this ideal accessible to all.

A continuously digitalized world

Today, many public services are going digital; these include taxation, social security and civil status, education, higher education, justice and the police. This digitalisation has brought about several changes in physical well-being (Health care anywhere, anytime, personalized care, patients as partners in their health care) and mental health (more time to self,), relationships (Person to person, person to business, person to government) and security (Independent living, disaster management and emergency response, security). Digital has thus become a whole way of life with new habits, a new style and a new rhythm of life in family and community, a new way for people to perceive themselves and the world around them. It applies to all areas and provides time and money optimization by automating more and more complex tasks.

A persistent digital divide

However, on one hand can be observed a persistent difficulty to control the use of digital features by young people and provide them with accurate telecommunication’s equipment and networks. On the other hand, the percentage of young people having digital devices can be divided into two: those having accurate knowledge of the digital technology and those who are digitally illiterates. According to the latest report from the International Telecommunications Union (ICT Facts and Figures 2017), the following data hold attention:

  • In 104 countries, more than 80% of the population is online.
  • In developed countries, 94% of young people aged 15-24 use the Internet compared with 67% in developing countries and only 30% in Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
  • Out of the 830 million young people who are online, 320 million (39%) are in China and India.
  • Nearly 9 out of 10 young people using the Internet live in Africa or Asia and the Pacific.

With regard to children’s rights online, the document One in Three: Internet Governance and Children’s Rights, derived from the first discussion on children at the Internet Governance Forum in 2009, shows from the statistical data that children, who constitute a greater percentage of the total population – between one-third and one-half of the population in the developing countries, are the rising proportion of all internet users. These data challenge the depth of the digital divide to the detriment of underdeveloped countries, the importance of targeting the youngest Internet users in all Internet governance reforms, and the efforts that remain to be made, in order to reach the ideal of digital inclusion in the world.

Digital literacy as a way to digital inclusion

The most affected groups being the most vulnerable populations, there are elderly or disabled people, rural populations, and the youngest between 5 and 18 years old. Some of these groups still use digital media (smartphone, laptop, iPad tablet, connected bracelet, etc.) only for fun purposes or as fashion effect.

Digital literacy - Southlights2030
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Regardless to security on the digital space, they are also ignorant and careless of private safety and personal data protection. Therefore, they spend a lot of money by investing for example on an internet connection to afford leisure on the web and social media, while internet access is still very expensive in those least developed countries. Adopting such habits on a daily basis, digital tends to impoverish them financially and intellectually, rather than building them up. The main cause of this is the a lack of knowledge about the usefulness and value of digital services, all the benefits, all the risks involved as well.

A recent UNICEF report (Access to Internet and digital literacy, October 2017) identifies literacy limitations among the barriers to accessing the internet (affordability, connectivity, discrimination, inclusivity). Those literacy limitations which include lower levels of reading ability and technical skill, make it difficult to fully engage with ICTs in a meaningful way. There is therefore a need to promote digital literacy as a form of education for media but especially for new media that involve the digital.

According to UNICEF, digital literacy is “the ability to access, manage, understand, integrate, communicate, evaluate and create information safely and appropriately through digital technologies for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship. It includes skills that are variously referred to as computer literacy, ICT literacy, literacy information and media literacy.” (in A Global Framework of Reference on Digital Literacy Skills for Indicator 4.4.2, Information Paper No. 51, June 2018).

By providing these layers of the population with the ability to find, evaluate, produce and communicate clear information through writing and other forms of communication on various digital platforms, digital literacy will significantly contribute to reducing the digital divide. This will allow them to join the movement by using digital services effectively and for useful purposes. This will further protect them from dangerous or harmful content, and will put a minimum “seatbelt” to prevent potential threats. This will especially make the youngest understand that digital is not only fun, but a great opportunity with infinite possibilities to prepare for the future: access to the internet means access to the physical and virtual world.

What measures to adopt to promote digital literacy in the next 5 years?

The future of the world is digital, but the future of a digital world is essentially human. It may seem paradoxical, but if the human is the main resource needed to digitalize all services, making them accessible and affordable, human is also the main aim of the digitalization process. Failing to get human literacy, satisfaction and inclusion will be failing to build the future we want and leaving a huge part of the world’s population behind. It is therefore essential to invest in the human dedicated to the use of digital services. This implies setting up, in the demanding environments, a training and continuous support system on digital, given the speed of its development.

Involving stakeholders

Digital literacy - SouthLights2030
Credit: CareerIndia

More practically, digital literacy therefore implies intensive and continuous digital training, preceded by basic; a technical and logistical training settings; educational resources adapted for each age and level; qualified teachers, trained and continually leveraged to the pace of technological change. Last but not least, all the stakeholders should be involved and organized so that each plays his role effectively at his level. Stakeholders have become aware of this and have taken actions that can be observed at different levels. With the boost and support of local stakeholders (NGOs and other development actors) or international lobby groups, schools are striving to include digital in programs from the basics. Communities are creating appropriate training centers. CSOs use incentives such as STEM Prizes, etc. In addition, several programs are set up by governments as part of government strategies that meet either a national vision or a shared vision according to an international agreement.

But the impacts are not only positive! In the face of legal issues, privacy, security and many others stakes, digital can be a potential danger for these tender generations. On an operational level, it is therefore necessary that the support of the most sensitive populations and the most remote from the digital is personalized and embodied by a clearly identifiable local interlocutor. The success of territorial digital literacy strategies will therefore have to go hand-in-hand with the most vulnerable populations to inform, train, give confidence and change habits.

All this must be thought upstream, framed and carefully put in place, to ensure a better expansion of the digital revolution in Africa, promote its contribution to development without jeopardizing ethics, individual and collective freedoms.

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