Bridging the Tech Gap: Strategies for Digital Inclusion in Africa

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Education, a vital human right, is also a major force behind social and economic advancement. Millions of children and young people in Africa still lack access to high-quality education, though, for a variety of reasons, including poverty, violence, gender, and disability. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic also contributed to havoc in educational systems, aggravating already-existing disparities and obstacles related to education’s relevance, quality, and accessibility.

Digital inclusion and the application of digital technologies for teaching and learning are some of the major issues facing African education. By making knowledge, resources, and opportunities more accessible, encouraging collaboration and communication, and stimulating creativity and innovation, digital technologies like computers, smartphones, the internet, and online platforms can improve the way that education is delivered and the results that students achieve. Unfortunately, a lot of African schools and students lack the hardware, software, connectivity, and content needed to properly use digital technologies in the classroom.

Therefore, one of the most important strategies for closing the technology gap and enhancing education in Africa is digital inclusion, which is the process of making sure that everyone has access to and can benefit from digital technologies. In order to truly achieve digital inclusion, social, cultural, and economic barriers that keep people from utilising digital technologies must be removed in addition to offering hardware and software. A comprehensive and inclusive strategy involving numerous stakeholders, including the public and commercial sectors, communities, civil society, and governments, is also necessary for digital inclusion.

In this article, strategies and programmes that three African nations—Nigeria, Ghana, and Rwanda—are using to close the technology gap in education and advance digital inclusion are discussed.

Nigeria: Improving Digital Technology Accessibility and Cost

With more than 200 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populated and diverse country in Africa, home to more than 250 different ethnic and linguistic groups. Nigeria boasts the biggest economy in Africa, but it also faces many difficulties, including destitution, violence, bribery, and inadequate leadership. With over 10 million children not attending school, Nigeria has the highest percentage of out-of-school children worldwide. This is primarily because of poverty, conflict, and gender discrimination. In Nigeria, the literacy rate is likewise low, with only 62% of adults and 72% of children being literate. The majority of Nigeria’s population lives in rural and remote areas, making access to and affordability of digital technologies one of the biggest obstacles to education in the country. Only 42% of Nigerians have access to the internet, and only 37% have access to electricity, according to the World Bank. Furthermore, the quality and dependability of the service are poor, and the cost of devices and the internet is high. The potential and advantages of digital technologies for Nigerian education are constrained by these factors.

To tackle this issue, some of the plans and programmes that seek to improve Nigerians’ access to and affordability of digital technologies include:

Digital Skill Development and Literacy: This approach entails creating standards and curricula for digital literacy and skills, as well as training educators and students on how to use digital technologies for learning. The Digital Skills for Africa programme, which gives Nigerians free online courses on digital skills; the Digital Bridge Institute, which trains and certifies teachers and students in ICT skills; and the Digital Girls Club, which equips girls and young women with digital skills and career opportunities, are a few of the initiatives that carry out this strategy.

Mobile and Low-Cost Devices: This tactic entails giving schools and students access to mobile and low-cost devices, like laptops, tablets, and smartphones, as well as developing and modifying content and applications specifically for these devices. The One Laptop per Child project, which gives low-cost laptops to elementary school students; the Opon Imo project, which gives secondary school students tablets with pre-loaded educational content; and the MTN Foundation, which gives teachers and students smartphones and data bundles, are a few initiatives that put this strategy into practice.

Community and School-Based Connectivity: To give schools and students, particularly in rural and isolated areas, access to the internet, this strategy entails setting up and growing community and school-based connectivity, such as Wi-Fi hotspots, solar-powered internet kiosks, and satellite broadband. A few of the projects that put this plan into practice are the Google Station, which offers free Wi-Fi in public spaces; the Co-Creation Hub, which offers digital services and Wi-Fi hotspots to communities; and the SchoolNet Nigeria project, which gives internet access and online resources to schools.

Ghana: Enhancing Digital Technologies’ Relevance and Quality

With a population of roughly 30 million, Ghana is a nation in West Africa with a history of democratic government and political stability. Ghana is a lower-middle-income nation with a rapidly expanding economy centred on natural resources, agriculture, and services. Ghana has achieved universal primary education, raised enrollment and completion rates across the board, and made notable strides in the field of education. With 89% of children and 79% of adults in Ghana being literate, the country has a high literacy rate.

A primary obstacle facing Ghanaian education is the deficiency of digital technologies in terms of their quality and applicability, particularly with regard to curriculum, pedagogy, and content. The World Bank reports that 71% of Ghanaians have access to electricity, and 76% have internet access. The content and applications offered are frequently not in line with the local context and requirements, as well as the national curriculum, and the service’s quality and dependability are inconsistent. Furthermore, the teaching and learning process is frequently not integrated with the use of digital technologies in education, and neither teachers nor students have the necessary training or resources to use these tools effectively.

Some of the tactics and programmes aimed at resolving this issue and raising the calibre and applicability of digital technologies in Ghana include:

Content and Curriculum Development: This approach entails creating and offering curriculum and content that is pertinent, high-quality, and in line with the national curriculum for use in digital technologies like online courses, e-books, and e-learning platforms. iCampusGhana offers online courses and certifications to professionals and students; the Ghana Library Authority provides e-books and online resources to libraries and schools; and the Ghana Code Club instructs children and youth in coding and programming. These are just a few of the initiatives that put this strategy into practice.

Pedagogical Innovation and Integration: In order to improve the teaching and learning process and results, this strategy combines digital technology innovation and integration with pedagogical practices and methods like gamification, blended learning, and flipped classrooms. The Ghana Education Service offers training and guidelines on the use of digital technologies for teaching and learning; Penplusbytes offers digital tools and platforms for civic education and engagement; and DreamOval Foundation offers gamified learning solutions for STEM education. These are a few initiatives that put this strategy into practice.

Monitoring and Evaluation: This tactic entails keeping an eye on how well digital technologies are working in the classroom, assessing their effects with data and proof, and offering suggestions and criticism for improvement. The Ghana Open Data Initiative offers access to and analysis of government data on education; the EdTech Hub conducts research and innovation on the use of digital technologies for education in Ghana; and the Ghana Education Evidence Summit, which brings stakeholders and experts together to share and discuss research and best practices in education, are a few initiatives that carry out this strategy.

Rwanda: Promoting Innovation and Collaboration with Digital Technologies

With a population of roughly 13 million, Rwanda is a landlocked nation in East Africa with a history of genocide and reconstruction. Rwanda has made significant investments in ICT as a vital development enabler and driver, with the goal of transforming its economy into one that is knowledge-based and innovation-driven. Rwanda is regarded as an upper-middle-income nation with one of Africa’s most developed and competitive ICT sectors. Achieving nearly universal primary education and improving access and quality across the board, Rwanda has also made impressive strides in the field of education. With 86% of children and 74% of adults in Rwanda being literate, the country has a high literacy rate.

The lack of innovation and collaboration with digital technologies, particularly in terms of entrepreneurship, research, and development, is one of the major issues facing Rwandan education. 91% of Rwandans have access to electricity, and 52% have internet access, according to the World Bank. Nevertheless, the adoption and use of digital technologies in education are frequently restricted to necessities like communication and information retrieval, and they do not promote critical thinking, creativity, or problem-solving. Furthermore, the stakeholders’ cooperation and partnerships—which include the public and commercial sectors, academia, and civil society—are frequently feeble and dispersed, failing to take full advantage of the possibilities and promises presented by digital technologies for education.

Some of the tactics and programmes aimed at encouraging creativity and cooperation with digital technologies in Rwanda include the following in order to address this challenge:

Fund for Innovation in Rwanda (RIF): Through a public-private partnership, RIF connects the government with investment manager Angaza Capital to support and finance innovative and disruptive businesses that address regional issues. The fund aims to create jobs, skills, and impact for the Rwandan and African economies by concentrating on sectors like education, health, agriculture, and energy.

The Norrsken Foundation is an innovation hub and investment fund based in Sweden that provides support to start-ups and entrepreneurs who use technology for social good. In Kigali, the foundation established its first hub outside of Scandinavia, and in its first year of operation, 1,000 entrepreneurs are anticipated to reside there. For entrepreneurs, the hub offers co-working spaces, training, networking opportunities, and mentorship.

Centre for Digital Transformation (DTC): DTC is an African-German initiative with the goal of creating and executing impact-driven digital solutions. In addition to offering government agencies and nearby tech companies training and advisory services, the centre offers a contemporary workspace that fosters innovation and teamwork. The centre offers consulting and advisory services to the public and private sectors in addition to conducting research and innovation in digital technologies.

The goal of the Digital Learning for African Schools (DLAS) project is to give primary and secondary schools in Rwanda and other African nations access to digital learning materials. As part of the project, digital textbooks, videos, and games that are compatible with a range of platforms and devices and are based on the local curriculum and culture will be developed and distributed. In addition, the project entails improving the impact and efficacy of the digital learning resources as well as training and assisting educators and students in using them.

The Rwanda Artificial Intelligence (AI) Triage Pilot is an initiative that seeks to apply AI to enhance patient diagnosis and care in Rwanda’s rural health centers. In this project, patients are questioned by a chatbot about their symptoms and medical background; the chatbot then provides a preliminary diagnosis and a recommendation. Additionally, the project makes use of a smartphone app to link patients with physicians and other specialists for additional advice and prescriptions.

The concept of digital inclusion is dynamic and ever-changing, requiring creativity, teamwork, and flexibility. Nigeria, Ghana, and Rwanda serve as prime examples of how different countries can overcome particular obstacles and design specialised plans to close the technology divide in education. Stakeholders in the global education community can get ideas and insights for promoting digital inclusion globally by studying the various approaches and initiatives used by these nations. In the end, the accomplishment of digital inclusion in African education is evidence of the transformative potential of technology when combined with a determined and strategic approach.

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