In the 2020 Huawei Global ICT Competition, Nigerian students triumphed over a field of 150, 000 strong.
That was a bold statement from Africa to the world that a continent which has been seen to lag behind in matters technology is shaking off its last remnants of sleep and gearing for a battle to the top.
The agrarian and industrial ages are behind us. The information age is with us, and Africa is trying not to be left behind.
A study by The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization found that Africa has a lot of work to do, though, if they are to make a mark on the digital front.
Internet penetration in 2019 averaged 39.6 per cent in the continent, compared to 62.7 per cent in the rest of the world. But this comes with immense variation among countries, ranging from 89.8 per cent in Kenya to a low of 5.3 per cent in Burundi. Furthermore, in 2017, Africa used only 1 per cent of the world’s total international Internet bandwidth.
The median mobile broadband download speed in Africa is 2.7 megabits per second (Mbits/s), roughly half the global median of 5.2 Mbits/s, and the monthly cost of a fixed broadband connection is 36.6 per cent of gross national income, compared with 14.5 per cent globally.
African countries spend about 1.1 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on digital investment, while advanced economies spend an average of 3.2 per cent, the study revealed.
Which necessitates a change of tact in the continent, as business-as-usual will only continue to widen the digital divide and drive further marginalization of Africa.
The success of the Nigerian students was taken to indicate that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is integral to the national development agenda.
And no better way to make Africa an ICT hub than to bring together players from private companies, universities, educational institutions, and partners can be brought together to build a healthy industry cooperation ecosystem and build a successful path for nurturing new ICT talent.
Africa’s first 5G lab, in South Africa, is a concrete and recent example of how that can be achieved.
In early November 2020, Huawei, Rain, and Wits University partnered to launch South Africa and Africa’s first 5G laboratory at the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, giving students access to a live 5G environment to build cutting-edge applications.
This as the world inches closer to superfast internet connectivity and a near perfectly efficient system.
“We are working with the pioneers in digital innovation to train a generation of smart, savvy scholars who will transform the world, using the latest technology available to effect beneficial change in our world,” said Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor of Wits University.
It is the way to go, to nurture a generation that can stand shoulder to shoulder with those from other developed countries and speed up Africa’s development.
Business–education partnerships help to build the right talent and skills for Africa’s job market.
This will be vital as African countries seek to rebuild their economies after the devastation brought by the Covid-19 pandemic. Such partnerships contribute positively to address innovation market failures and help to realize the full social returns of research and development investments.
When schools churn out graduates who are not well suited to market demands, there ends up being rampant unemployment and wastage of resources invested in the study.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs study, the result could be a net loss of over 5 million jobs in 15 major developed and emerging economies. These patterns may even be more aggravated in other African economies, unless we act today.
The study highlights that skill demands will change significantly over the next five years, pointing at the importance of aligning education with skills needed in the labor force.
A good number of students currently enrolled in most of Africa’s tertiary institutions are studying subjects that do not support the need in business for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) as well as future-oriented skills, according to research.
Many organizations thus face the challenge of finding appropriately trained graduates with complex problem-solving skills, critical thinking, good judgement, and decision-making, as well as cognitive flexibility.
Tech firms and universities need each other to flourish, and to pull Africa up and put it at par with the rest of the world.
In recent times, the rise in global knowledge and technology has intensified the need for universities and industry to forge a strategic partnership that goes beyond the traditional funding of research projects.
Essentially, collaboration between universities and industries encourages skills development through education and training, innovation and technology transfer, acquisition and adoption of knowledge, and the promotion of entrepreneurship in a form of start-ups and spin-offs.
Further, the entities collaborating are able to exploit synergies and complementarities of scientific and technological capabilities to commercialize their research and development outcomes, increase the mobility of labor between public and private sectors and increase the propensity of firms to introduce new products and to patent.
For public-private cooperation to flourish in Africa, the continent will need government’s participation in the design and implementation of initiatives they support.
Granted, governments can use favorable policies to orient non-state providers, such as private and multinational companies, toward promoting education and skill transfer among the youth.
By working closely with business and education, governments can play their respective parts in building an environment conducive to the private sector’s investment in education – for instance, regarding apprenticeship and employment. Promoting cross-sectoral dialog and rewards for exemplar practices will also signal government’s positive attitude in this government-business-education initiative.
As suggested in a recent report by Arthur D. Little, a management consultancy, policymakers in different countries need to recognize that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to digital policies as countries differ in their presence or dominance in the ICT value-chain step.
“The digitization of economies delivers numerous benefits, driving innovation, fueling high-paying job opportunities and boosting economic growth. Depending on the definition, the digital economy represents between 4.5 and 15.5 percent of the world’s GDP,” says Arthur D. Little.
Therefore, the overall strategy of ICT Novices, as the case for most Sub-Saharan African countries except South Africa, is to accelerate the uptake of digitalization within their borders. Consequently, an ICT Novice’s key strategic objectives are to maintain availability of standard ICT infrastructure to support the adoption of technology, develop e-government services to kick-start digitalization of the economy and deliver a comprehensive digital inclusion and awareness strategy to raise ICT adoption.
And perhaps in a short while, the continent will be competing with global heavyweights for a place among the best countries in digital savviness.