By Christopher Saul, Territory Sales Lead for East Africa at Red Hat
Across Africa, educators and institutions are confronting the pressing need to transform the education sector and offer critical 4IR skills development to students. Kenya appears to be leading this revolution, with President Kenyatta announcing last year that coding as a subject would be added to the country’s primary and secondary schools curricula. The announcement makes Kenya the first African country to approve coding as a subject at a school level (with similar efforts underway in South Africa) and reinforces the importance of introducing this critical skill to students from a young age.
The availability of digital skills is an important component of a digital ecosystem. For Kenya to achieve and sustain an inclusive digital economy, it needs to develop a digitally competent workforce and a digitally literate citizenry. And as digital infrastructure continuously improves and evolves with the introduction of new technologies, that workforce must be upskilled along with it.
Growing demand for digital skills
Although Kenya’s internet penetration rate only sits at around a third (32.7%) of the country’s total population, much progress has been made in recent times. Between 2022 and 2023, the number of internet users increased by 1.3 million (8%). Digital infrastructure is also improving. According to the Cloud in Africa 2023 report by World Wide Worx, Kenyan organisations were the biggest cloud spenders in 2022. A trend that’s attributable to an increase in the number of data centres and cloud platforms available in the country. Our government is also on the verge of commencing local production of cheap smartphones, a move that aims to close the country’s digital divide and promote digital inclusion among citizens.
However, despite these developments, a UNESCO study shows significant ICT skills gaps exist in key areas such as cloud computing, data analysis and processing, and security. Companies that adopt such technologies, therefore, face a challenge in acquiring the necessary skills to make the most of them. In addition, the study reveals that by 2025, Kenya’s digital economy is expected to generate 9.24% of the country’s total GDP. And, importantly, by 2030, more than half of all jobs in Kenya will depend on digital skills. These forecasts call for a concerted effort to cultivate the necessary talent, and address the gap between ICT knowledge and skills that could compromise our digital future.
Reshaping the curriculum
Change starts from the ground up. To effectively participate in digital economies and society at large, students need entry-level digital skills. Even something as basic as being able to use digital devices like computers and smartphones, applications like web browsers, and tools like Microsoft office, go a long way in improving employability regardless of sector or industry. Online communication skills, such as using email or social media platforms, are also essential for daily personal and professional interactions.
From there, Kenyan institutions can expand their curriculum offering to a tertiary level and expose students to more comprehensive and advanced subjects. These include introductory courses in cloud computing and networking, cybersecurity, data analytics, and software development. This way, institutions will contribute to a technically driven and capable workforce with skillsets that reflect the needs and expectations of the market, as well as promote a culture of innovation. Good ideas can come from anywhere, and with exposure to and understanding of the latest ICT technologies, students can work to make their ideas a reality.
Accredit where its due
Like digital transformation, closing the digital and ICT skills gap requires a holistic approach. Sectors must work together to provide the necessary training and opportunities to give students and graduates the resources and insight they need to open as many doors as possible.
That is why leading technology and software vendors partner with academic institutions to provide access to a range of essential training courses and certification exams. This gives students the opportunity to become experts in the solutions they use and, to varying degrees, make up the architecture that underlines today’s digital platforms and systems. And it’s not just about the skills. Equipped with expert knowledge and first-hand experience of industry-leading solutions, graduates improve their employability and become desirable to organisations who rely on that knowledge for their core business functions and overall activity.
Kenya has the potential to lead the rest of Africa when it comes to supporting its digital ecosystem with a robust education strategy. All it takes is an emphasis on the skills that help that ecosystem grow and, subsequently, positively contribute to digital inclusion, development, and transformation.