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Digital Literacy Will Spur Innovation

By Jessica Anjalo | October 5th 2016

There are a few things that set us apart are as a country. Never mind a majority of us not being good long-distance runners; we get to bask in the glorious legacy that our athletes have built in marathons. Another thing that sets us apart is our technological prowess.

In fact, a global Business news site (Bloomberg) reported that Kenya has become the tech hub of Africa, a niche with an estimated worth of more than one billion dollars in the next three years. Our agile mobile money platform alone is on everyone’s mouth worldwide. Despite the ease with which we transact on mobile money platforms, it’s still a myth to the world apparently.

Economic development and technological innovation are inseparable twins, as history shows. Look at the printing press, which sparked the Renaissance in Europe, Newcomen’s steam engine, the vanguard of the industrial revolution, or even semiconductor electronics and microchips from the last century, which laid the physical foundation for the virtual world. All our achievements in the ICT sector, however many, were kick started by a few individuals who first saw a computer either in high School or after high school. And even then, they were learning just the basics and getting wowed by  a search engine that had answers to all their questions. It sparked their curiosity, and years on, innovation was born.

Last week, Information, Communication and Technology Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru launched the Digital Literacy Program and distributed tablets to Ortum Boys Boarding Primary School in West Pokot County.

The faces of the few pupils who were lined up to receive the tablets on behalf of the school, spoke excitement, disbelief, and hope. More so they could not believe that in their hands was a device they had not believed existed, or even if it did exist, would be touched by any of them. Politics aside, the launch of the digital literacy program has more merits and points at a brighter future for our economy. For one, ask yourself… What if the guy who invented M-pesa started learning digital skills from class one? How soon would it have come? If using digital technology for such a short time sparked such a mountain innovation, what more would we get with more experience?

In today's world, college/university graduates come into contact with a fast-evolving range of technologies and have access to a wealth of information. Students can be more successful after graduation if they are digitally literate—having learned how to identify and create digital solutions, adapt to new tools, and discover more effective and efficient ways of doing things in their fields. The use of technology has transformed every discipline and career, from engineers to doctors to politicians. Yet the traditional academic experience does not prepare many students for the challenges they'll face in these professions today. In fact, traditional definitions of literacy have focused on skills relating to numeracy, listening, speaking, reading, writing and critical thinking, with the end goal being developing active thinkers and learners who are able to engage the society in effective and meaningful ways. In today’s world however, these skills are only part of a larger set of skills and competencies that are required.

Judging from the positives of technological innovation locally, there has always been a need to rethink not just how we teach our students but what we teach our students. And the introduction of the digital literacy program is a big leap in the right direction. Having set ourselves apart as Africa’s Silicon Valley, there is the need to prepare students from a tender age on not only being consumers, but creators of digital content.

In an article by CS Mucheru, he mentioned how the launch of the Smart Africa Initiative during the Transform Africa Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, in October 2013 had set a renewed pace for the realization of Africa’s development aspirations. Through Smart Africa, a single digital and knowledge-driven economy will emerge and push the continent’s global competitiveness to higher levels. The Digital Literacy Programme is a key step taken by the government fulfilling the promise of developing innovative skills for a globally competitive knowledge economy. Integrating ICT into teaching and learning for primary schools will create a future with ICT-grounded citizens capable of turning around Kenya’s development fortunes.

It is by no means a show of poor prioritization by the government. Yes there is the question of basic infrastructure like desks and classrooms, but this touches more into innovation and the style of learning than the place. The secondary benefits of the same is that the government and stakeholders will have to take electricity to those schools, which a little bird whispered to me has been quietly happening through the last mile connectivity program.

I am looking forward to the future, because it is bright. You should too.

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