What it will take, for Basotho youth to learn digital skills? First, there must be a change of attitude toward smart phones and the internet.
Just a few months ago, I sat in at the Selibeng Forum to learn that a high school teacher had a problem assisting his students through WhatsApp as the students’ parents would not allow it. This is not unusual; many parents in Africa still have a negative attitude toward technology. We have people buying leading smartphone brands as a status symbol, but who are not fully participating in the digital economy, let alone the creation of work. One way to change this negative perception among older generations could be through massive PR campaigns by governments and pertinent authorities. Such massive steps have to be taken by authorities because parents tend to pay attention to what authorities state rather than listening to their children. Regardless of how sound their argument may be. Unless parents understand the significance of the digital economy and the future of work enough to support the youth through the process, it will be almost impossible to enhance the required skills. We are already among leading smartphone consumers, we just have to start using them for even more of our benefit.
Speaking of necessary skills, before we talk about the future of work, we should be talking about the future of education. Youth have got to start seeing smart phones as digital economy participation and work creation tools, not just for entertainment. They must be willing to learn about the power they hold in their hands.
Many young people in my country let schooling put a pause on their creative lives. Both parents and students think going to school is the most important thing. They ignore other creative talents and preparations for opportunities in the future of work. As a result, we have multitudes of unemployed graduates. The advantage is that they have ample free time to learn and create great products. The limiting factor is the shortage of a basic resource such as internet access.
In dealing with youth, we have to start redefining cool beyond the classroom. Cool isn’t just owning the latest smartphone. The “new cool” is disruptive entrepreneurship and creating a sustainable ecosystem for it. We have to start encouraging young people to creatively use technology for creation of work and to solve digital economy problems. This is where 100% network coverage and subsidized internet costs come in. It is why South Africa Connect is such a brilliant initiative. South Africa is worth the mention because Lesotho is not only landlocked within it, but it also sometimes copies policies implemented by South Africa. Simply put, if South Africa is doing it, it must be good for Lesotho, would be a popular notion.
But internet access is not enough to enhance skills; a bit of human contact is necessary. In fact, a lot of human contact will be necessary for people who have to learn new skills. The switch from a knowledge to skill-based economy is going to take face-to-face workshops and collaborative creativity in the form of incubators for both entrepreneurs and companies. For example, I applaud companies such as Technify and Hyperion Development for their efforts in preparing people for the future of work. Technify holds free monthly web design workshops among other tutorials and events, and Hyperion Development is an educational site that offers skills training in areas such as coding that will be useful in the future. The trick is to identify companies already doing something and expand their impact.
All in all, it will take a positive attitude by parents, purposeful use of technology by youth, increased network coverage, affordable internet access and articulate funding with incubation to prepare Lesotho’s youth for a digital future.
Khothatso Kolobe, a Mosotho, is a winner of the World Bank Africa 2019 Blog4Dev regional competition.