Digital literacy at grassroots key to creating employment

Noah Kipkemboi (left) and Beatrice Nyamwamu during a past Farm Kenya event. [Evis Ogina, Standard]

Walking through the World Mobile Congress exhibitions in Barcelona, Spain, is nothing short of magic.

The level of investment into technology is not only seen in the disruption the tech solutions are offering to global challenges but also paints a clear picture of what the future holds; a fully end-to-end digital lifestyle.

Amidst all the amazement, I remember home; Kenya, the heartbeat of digital Savanna. How close are we to this future, centred by the application of 5G, utilisation of Artificial Intelligence and making the Internet of Things (IoT) the in-thing?

Kenya is still experiencing the birthing pains of creating a foundation of a digitally savvy population. With a median age of 19 years, reflective of how youthful the country is, digital literacy remains a core pillar in establishing a digital-first country.

The unveiling of the DigiTruck: Digital Literacy Skills Programme at the Mobile World Congress has revealed the digital skills gap still needs to be filled.

Following the Kenya DigiTruck, a collaborative project by the Ministry of ICT and Digital Economy through the ICT Authority, Ministry of Youth Affairs, Huawei, Safaricom, gsma, Close the Gap, Computers for Schools Kenya and National Government Affirmative Action Fund, it is clear the hunger by Kenyan youth for digital skills is high.

DigiTruck conducts free training on digital skills, targeting the youth via a mobile classroom that is aimed at the unreachable.

The report has revealed that one of the most acquired skills over the last four years the programme has been running is the maximum utilisation of smartphones. The use of smartphones for tasks went up 38 per cent to 82 per cent, concurrent with an increase in smartphone penetration in the country.

According to the Communications Authority of Kenya, smartphone penetration went up to 61 per cent in June 2023, compared to 54 per cent the previous year. Coming close to better utilisation of smartphones, the report further revealed that job searching more than doubled amongst those trained, with finding job listings on websites going up from 30 per cent to 73 per cent.

This is reflective of how the digital ecosystem is slowly becoming the hunting ground for jobs by the Kenyan youth, a demographic that is hardest hit by unemployment.

The skills acquired through DigiTruck are also coming in handy in the self-employment arena. The use of MS Excel to calculate business budget, for instance, went up from 37 per cent before the training to 71 per cent after the training. This is a huge step, especially in the micro and small businesses, which are highly informal, to create proper record keeping, a huge factor in the ability to get credit.

Further, through the digital skills training that targets rural communities, the use of PowerPoint to make presentations to show business ideas went up from 34 per cent to 70 per cent.

Amidst the tough economic times that many Kenyans are facing, the DigiTruck: Digital Literacy Skills Program report noted that over the four years of the programme, the percentage of those who buy things online dropped from 59 per cent prior to the training to 50 per cent after the training.

The demand for general computer and package training remains high for the majority of learners, with programming and coding, web development and design and digital marketing following closely. The demand for these skills is higher for the age group 30-35 years.

The report noted myriad challenges that Kenya needs to overcome if digital illiteracy is to be eradicated from the community to pave way for a proficient digital super highway. Many rural areas remain inaccessible, making the biggest challenge for students to be long distances to training areas.

Inadequate time and poor transport or lack of fare come a close second and third, respectively. When all is said and done, what matters is the bottom line; are the trained individuals able to create or get a job and in the process make money? Well, when the Digitruck project started, 37 per cent were unemployed, but after training, 31 per cent remained without employment, reflecting a marginal drop of six per cent.

The self-employment rate declined by seven per cent, those studying increased by three per cent, those employed part-time by four per cent and those employed full-time increased by five per cent. 

With this report as a reflection of digital literacy intervention at a grassroots level, the Kenya Kwanza regime that was elected on a bottom-up economic transformation model, with digital superhighway being one of the pillars, can actually take huge lessons for further intervention.

Infrastructure and logistics improvements are of critical importance to ease access across the country, provide reliable power and enable the provision of laptops to participants for use during and after training.

There‘s also a need to strengthen partnerships with local businesses and industries to create more job opportunities for trained individuals, create entrepreneurship-focused modules for income generation, tailor payment plans to course costs and consider exploring financial assistance or scholarships for individuals having financial obstacles.

While the world is quickly adopting Artificial Intelligence and 5G, a population that is well equipped in basic digital literacy skills should ideally experience a faster transition to the new and future tech.

- The writer is a reporter at The Standard Group

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