Throughout human history, we have seen countless revolutions, many of which have been driven by young people mobilising joint action for major social transformation. Forty five years ago on June 16, thousands of black youth came together to voice their opposition to perpetual oppression and subjugation in South Africa. The introduction of Afrikaans as a language of instruction at schools, was just the latest human rights infringement which compelled them to take to the streets in a bid to overthrow and dismantle a system of oppression, subordination and injustice.
Today South Africa is still one of the most inequitable countries in the world. Like the rest of Africa, we grapple with systemic inequality, high unemployment, an inability to absorb marginalised communities into the mainstream economy, issues like climate change, food security, a lack of proper housing for the majority of our citizens, as well as the massive divide in the quality of education that underprivileged and privileged individuals have access to.
According to the World Economic Forum, about 20% of youth in emerging markets and developing economies are neither in work nor in school. In South Africa, the expanded youth unemployment rate is currently at 74%. This means that only 1 in 4 persons who leave school and are under 24 are able to find work. One of the biggest hindrances to youth finding jobs is a lack of digital skills and the knowledge of how to effectively use those skills to secure employment and bring about personal growth. The latter is called digital citizenship. It has been proven that a lack of digital skills prohibits youth from “obtaining better career and educational opportunities” and “greater personal advancement” amongst others.
Internationally young people who are digitally literate and digitally skilled are leading innovation in different fields. For example in Qatar, the Global Shapers Community – a network of youth under 30 – is driving an Earth Talk series bringing together policy-makers, business leaders and academics on digital platforms to discuss critical environmental issues.
In Africa, young leaders inspired by the Global Shapers Community have started implementing projects across the continent to provide access to training, education and employment to those who need it most. Constant advancement in technology has placed a huge demand on digital skills and innovative thinking that is attuned to socio-economic challenges on the continent and empowers individuals to participate meaningfully in the local and global economy.
A number of notable startups in the education space across Africa are emerging to find a new way to deliver education to learners, students and communities. The Lagos Hub in Nigeria is one such example. It offers workshops to equip youth with digital skills to empower them in today’s job market, including big-data analysis, training in hardware and software, and tips on thriving in a networked world.
In Kenya, Eneza Education provides education content and quizzes specially made for delivery on mobile devices. They have partnered with Kenya’s government as part of the country’s Digital Literacy programme where over 12 000 digital learning devices were given to 150 public primary schools as part of the pilot. These devices, modified tablets, come preloaded with Eneza Education developed content for the specific grades the learners are in. Teachers also receive laptops preloaded with training curricula and this is all linked to the school server where students progress is monitored and data is stored.
Here in South Africa, MiDO Technologies and the MiDO Foundation have responded to the call by government to empower young people and communities with digital literacy and digital skills to unlock opportunities. Placing computer labs at schools do not lead to digital competency. It is the additional digital skills and soft skills training that truly leads to empowerment. Complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity have been identified by the African Development Bank and other international organisations as critical skills needed to survive the fourth industrial revolution. These are also the same skills needed by a new generation of changemakers to have a meaningful impact on global challenges. To this end, MiDO Technologies and the MiDO Foundation have built digital hubs in communities in the Western Cape and are currently expanding to Gauteng.
The hubs are creative spaces of learning where digital literacy such as coding, robotics, graphic design, and digital video and photography are taught by industry experts to learners, and training provided in the effective use of Google Apps. Here learners are being equipped and empowered to become digital citizens who value teamwork, design and critical thinking, leadership and communication skills, social innovation and entrepreneurial skills. However teachers are also trained in digital skills in these hubs to ensure they remain abreast of developments in technology that can improve their teaching methods and lessen their administrative loads through digitisation.
Additionally these hubs are ensuring that unemployed youth obtain employment. This is thanks to our Digital Citizenship Programme, which provides youth from lower-income communities with internships to develop technical skills required in the ICT sector through a mentorship and industry-based 12-month paid internship. Afterwards, many of them take up positions as hub coordinators at schools where they provide training and support to learners and teachers.
All activities presented in these hubs are designed to encourage collaboration, to conscientise young people on global issues, to empower them to start businesses, and to participate in tackling social ills to help our country develop a new generation of digital citizens.
In South Africa and in Sub Saharan Africa where many young people encounter a computer or digital device for the first time when leaving school, the struggle for equality and the dismantling of systems of exclusion remain a struggle that can only be overthrown by youth skilled to navigate the digital streets.
Nhlanhla Mthembu is the Project Manager at MiDO Technologies’ branch in Johannesburg. MiDO focuses on impact-driven digital literacy solutions that prepare the youth and educators for a world where the mastery of digital skills will be essential to access education and find employment in future. Their goal is to contribute to Africa’s development and economic growth by empowering the youth for the fourth industrial revolution.