I used a laptop for the first time in the ninth grade. Until then, my education had consisted of cramming and regurgitating facts without any attempt at understanding and/or internalizing them. Thinking outside the box and finding creative and novel solutions to problems –a cornerstone of innovation–was frowned upon and actively discouraged. This, perhaps, is Africa’s biggest problem – even more so in a field where the biggest names started before they turned 30.
Turning the tide and making Africa not just a consumer but also a creator of technology will take deliberate action by all the players involved. For starters, the computer literacy rate must be aggressively increased. This can be facilitated by expansion into rural areas by the ministries of education and youth, private enterprises and even non-governmental organizations with the aim of teaching young people how to use computers. Solving this challenge is the reason I am a major supporter of student exchange programs between African tertiary institutions; if nothing else, the different viewpoints and mindsets exchange students bring will hopefully trigger renewed investments by the tech industry.
Another major challenge that must be conquered is the availability of steady internet. Knowledge is paramount in every industry, and knowledge cannot be transmitted in the face of huge connectivity barriers. Africa can only become leaders in digital transformation and innovation if we focus on skill acquisition and development.
Also, the presence of qualified instructors is a necessary ingredient in preparing young people for the digital age that we are advancing into. Reaching a 100% computer literacy rate is a lofty goal – one that would be unachievable without the aid of seasoned and competent instructors to teach people the basic computer skills.
But perhaps the biggest step that can be taken to prepare young people for the future of work is the establishment of spaces where hands-on learning is encouraged. These spaces not only help youths practicalize the theoretical knowledge they have memorized in school, but also helps them develop complex social skills (such as teamwork and versatility) that are invaluable in any professional setting. Imagine-nation, the co-working space set up by Imagine We Rwanda (an organization dedicated to improving the reading and writing culture in Rwanda) is one such space, nurturing and promoting startups and SMEs – such as Awesomely Limited, a local tech company partnering with Volkswagen Mobility Solutions.
In summary, preparing Africa’s youth for the digital economy will require taking small, solid steps instead of the much-touted leap of faith – this is, in fact, the only way in which the successors to Uber, Airbnb and Apple will be developed by African entrepreneurs.
Sandrine Bwiza, a Rwandan national, is a winner of the World Bank Africa 2019 Blog4Dev regional competition.