Equality is defined as ‘the state of being equal, especially in status, rights or opportunities’ but the digital divide is still holding too many people back from securing equal opportunities in employment.
Africa faces a huge digital skills gap which is inhibiting economic opportunities and development. According to research from the International Finance Corporation, 230 million jobs across the continent will require digital skills by 2030.
Access to quality education is the key to unlocking this potential and setting up the next generation in Africa for success. To do that, the digital divide must be addressed.
According to the IMF, only 28 per cent of Africans use the internet. By improving the continent’s access to reliable connectivity services, even in some of the hardest-to-reach communities, we can help even more access quality learning services that will help them develop the skills needed to thrive in the fast-paced digital jobs market.
Overcoming societal barriers will create new opportunities
The World Economic Forum published a report on The Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa which revealed employers across the region identified an inadequately skilled workforce as a major constraint to their business. Jobs are becoming increasingly reliant on digital technologies and skill shortages in many of Africa’s main industrial areas are due to a lack of technical knowledge, insufficient training, and access to quality learning.
At Avanti, we believe connectivity has the power to help overcome societal barriers and democratize learning that will boost skills generation.
One such barrier is gender. It is a sad fact that millions of girls in Africa will never complete primary school. At Avanti, we are committed to using our scale and resources to help more girls to build skills for work, increase earnings and participate in the formal economy.
We have partnered with the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) on the Girls’ Education Awareness Program which addresses barriers to girls’ education through targeted, context-specific awareness and information campaigns. Avanti and GPE recognize that girls’ education is a vital force – not only does it transform the lives of girls, but also has a tremendous ripple effect, with impacts ranging from improved health and stronger economies to the creation of a new generation of leaders.
Other barriers include poverty and instability. For both points, it is critical that businesses work in close partnership with governments and NGOs to help those most in need.
To help provide more cost-effective connectivity solutions, we are working with local Mobile Network Operators and Tower Companies to drive down some of the significant costs associated with building on-the-ground infrastructure. At the other end of the spectrum, we are working with organisations such as the UNHCR to deliver and install free solar-powered satellite broadband connectivity and laptops to sites in remote and off-grid refugee settlements in Uganda. This connectivity will help open opportunities to better access education that will transform the lives and livelihoods of individuals and communities traditionally left behind.
Why we need to make a stronger case for quality learning
While improving access to education through connectivity is a good first step, to truly make a difference, we need to ensure educational programmes – whether provided by governments, businesses or not-for-profit organisations – are refocused on learning outcomes.
Focusing on outcomes from the outset places greater emphasis on the relevant, practical knowledge and skills to be gained. Without this quality, practical learning, we cannot hope to address the widening digital skills gap that threatens to alienate even more from the workforce.
At Avanti, we have seen first-hand how a greater focus on outcomes can be transformative. We worked with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to create and lead a consortium delivering project iMlango – a first-of-its-kind e-learning partnership, created to improve educational outcomes in maths literacy and life skills for marginalised children.
The project provides rural and remote schools with high-speed internet connectivity as well as tailored numeracy content, girls clubs and teacher training. Over the seven years of the project, we have learned how to deliver an education platform that has enabled thousands of students to improve their “maths age” by 18 months on average.
Investing in the young and lifelong learning vital to boost Africa’s economy
Africa has the world’s youngest population, with a median age of 19.7 years old. Young people in Africa account for 60% of all of Africa’s jobless according to the World Bank. This figure is often blurred by Africa’s overall high employment rates, but the bigger picture is that often the work is informal, and many are not able to escape poverty due to low wages and a lack of training and a social safety net.
As one of the youngest populations in the world, it is imperative that adequate steps are taken to invest in young people to ensure they are prepared for the world of work and to help boost the overall economy.
We also believe education doesn’t just stop at school, and people should be able to continue to learn and expand their skills throughout life. This allows these communities to access new working opportunities and gain new skills that they can use in all aspects of life and become specialised in an area of employment that will be expanding across the continent.
We know this because Avanti doesn’t just work with partners to train people in Africa, we employ them ourselves. We are very proud of our diverse and inclusive workforce, with 26 nationalities represented worldwide. We aim to create employment opportunities for local people in all the regions in which we operate and 15% of our workforce is now based in Africa.
Allowing children to access the best education, and adults access the best training, will set them up with vital skills that will help them secure employment.
What more can be done
As the transformation of work unfolds in Africa, policymakers, business leaders and workers must be prepared to work together to help manage this period of transition and fill the gaps in Africa’s skillset. Investment in the younger generations will be key in the future expansion of Africa’s economy and help create a workforce who are prepared for the future of work.
Global inequality needs levelling out and the time has come for connectivity to take centre stage in tackling the education crisis. Satellite technology has the power to ignite real change and we have seen the positive impact that strategic partnerships can have on improving the digital divide, improving levels of education and helping connect millions of communities.
Debbie Mavis is the group HR director at Avanti Communications