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How digital technologies herald a bright future

By Karim Sy and Laura Maclet

It goes without saying that digital technologies are invading every aspect of our lives. But transitioning to an inclusive information society that offers opportunities for all is a major global challenge. New technologies give us a different perspective on the world and help us address problems from a new angle. That is why they are so important.
People in Africa understand this all too well. The pace of technological progress there is faster than anywhere else in the world – between 2010 and 2015, mobile cellular subscriptions jumped 70 per cent and almost half of the people on the continent now have a mobile phone contract. Despite the uneven digital and technological landscape, these technologies are increasingly becoming part and parcel of everyday life – even in rural areas, where people have shown a readiness to embrace mobile technologies. New apps are appearing all the time, across areas such as agriculture, health and education. A prime example is Farmdrive – an initiative that connects small-scale farmers to lenders in rural areas of Kenya using mobile telephones.
Mobile internet is heralding new opportunities in many different areas, and the success of mobile banking, which has revolutionized the banking sector, is now prompting innovative approaches to education. By 2050, more than half of the world's population grow this expected to occur in Africa, while, by some estimates, 65 per cent of children starting primary school today will work in jobs that are yet to exist – jobs in artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, 3D printing and nanotechnologies. As these new occupations emerge, people will need to continue learning and acquiring skills throughout their lives. And we will have to learn to adapt. The internet is also opening up new opportunities for people in remote areas to earn an income from simple activities. Samasource, a project that aims to reduce poverty through creating digital jobs, is a prime example of how empowerment and basic digital education can drive value creation.
So how can African children learn the skills they need to thrive in the future? How should we be educating people in today’s world of technological advances and societal upheaval?
Technologies serve no purpose without a human dimension. So, if we want everyone to use digital devices, we need to spread knowledge widely and rethink the respective roles of both the technologies and educators. The internet is steadily breaking down barriers to accessing knowledge, which is no longer the preserve of the classroom. Technology and multimedia bring with them opportunities to learn in new ways and develop customized learning pathways. Yet as technology opens up access to knowledge, there is a real risk that people who cannot use these new tools will be left behind. The answer is to get everyone on board – teachers, entrepreneurs, parents, technology communities, charities and non-profits, and public policymakers. If children know how to use digital technologies and get the support they need, they will be able to access – and use – a whole new world of technical and personal skills. What’s more, educators will be able to add these technologies to their arsenal of resources – doing away with the conventional model of centralized, top-down public education.

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Right now, children lack the safe and secure learning opportunities they need to reach their full potential. The digital revolution is about more than learning to use new tools and technologies. It is about a major paradigm shift in people’s mindsets and habits.
The Jokkokids project, supported by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), organizes extra-curricular workshops where children learn about the connections between digital technologies and other areas, such as manufacturing (do-it-yourself, recycling, etc.), self-expression and the arts. The idea is that learning stems first and foremost from great teaching, high-quality multidisciplinary content, and the teacher’s relationship with technology. If we want children to gain confidence in their abilities and make steady progress towards their full potential, we should encourage them to learn digital skills alongside other subject areas. This is a long-term process of continuous improvement, based on feedback from the global educational community. The aim is to do something that, ultimately, benefits everyone.
At its training centre in Ziguinchor, NGO Futur au Présent works with girls aged 6–10 who have previously been engaged in child labour. The scheme began in 2014 and, by 2016, 60 young girls had stopped working and returned to school. After 18 months, 90 percent of these girls were at the top of their class. Outside of lessons, the girls are enrolled in the Jokkokids scheme, as well as the Ideas Box project run by the NGO Libraries Without Borders, which fosters digital inclusion through cross-cutting sessions in which children learn about digital technologies, robotics and self-expression in a friendly and welcoming setting.
Programmes like these help children see the link between theory and practice. By revisiting what they have learned in the classroom during extra-curricular time, getting to grips with new tools and materials, and thinking about themselves and the people and world around them, children steadily build the resilience they need to cope in an ever-changing, complex, uncertain and ambiguous world. Never has there been a more urgent need to rethink the way we do things, especially in teaching and learning. But that change can only come about if we get everyone on board.
Portraits of Karim Sy and Laura Maclet

Karim Sy is a successful serial entrepreneur. In 2010, he founded Jokkolabs – an open innovation ecosystem that runs a network of ‘creative spaces’ in France and eight African countries. A member of Ashoka since 2012, Karim has kick-started a series of digital innovation projects, fuelling the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Africa and Europe. He was recently named as a member of the Presidential Council for Africa by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Laura Maclet coordinates Jokkolabs’ Education & Training Cluster. She holds a degree in politics, linguistics and information science, and is a qualified secondary-level teacher. She specializes in educational programme design, deployment and dissemination.

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