How Africa can use digitization to tackle high rate of illiteracy

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Statistics has it that 9 out of 10 countries with the highest illiteracy rate are African countries and in sub Saharan African every second woman cannot read or write. The UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) tracks literary data, with the help of national agencies. The statistics show that more than 1 in 3 adults cannot read, 182 million adults are unable to read or write, 48 million youths (15 -24) are illiterate, 22% of primary school aged children are not in school, that makes 30 million primary school aged children out of school. In other words one third of the people aged 15 years and above are unable to read and write. It is worrisome therefore that 27% of the World’s illiterate people live on sub Saharan Africa (UNESCO factsheet No. 45 September 2017) and that 17 countries in Africa still have literary rates of 50% and below.

As much as the ability to read and write do not automatically qualify as yardstick for measuring educational abilities, the challenges of the 21st century transcends the ability to read and write simple statements. The capacity of thinking critically, being creative, communicating effectively and co-operating with others are important. More over, people must be digitally savvy in this age.

Professor Charles Okujeni is a Nigerian born scholar; an Emeritus Professor of the Department of Earth Science of the Faculty of Natural Science of the University of the Western Cape in South Africa.  Though serving at the University of the Western Cape, he is a resource person in other South African institutions while still finding the time and space to impact developments in his fatherland of Nigeria in matters in his area of competence. He is an invaluable asset to the South African academic community, positively impacting the development of a fellow African country. There are several Professor Okujenis in South Africa and all over Africa, who are exporting the dynamic and resilient spirit of the Nigerian to other African countries.

Digitization less commonly referred to as digitalization, it is the process of converting information into a digital (i.e computer-readable) format, in which the information is organized into bits. It is the face and future of education which Africa should not overlook.

We are already in the fourth industrial revolution, which means that we have already had three previous revolutions in which the role of Africa was rather insignificant. The fourth industrial revolution is the digital revolution. The digital revolution is characterized and dominated by Robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine learning, Virtual reality (VR) Augmented Reality (AR) etc. These technologies are already prepared to take away jobs and revolutionize our lives. Talks of driverless cars, Smart cities, Smart farming, Medical AI, Railways Real time assessment and management system, UBER, Smart energy, Smart umbrellas (that tell the weather) are real and are gaining currency the world over. Today just about everything has gone digital, but our educational system in Africa has not matched the pace of change. According to UNESCO, 60% of students are being trained in courses that will be radically changed by automation latest by 2025.  Africa must not and cannot afford to miss out the fourth industrial revolution. The digital culture is about efficiency, higher productivity, cost savings, faster reaction and innovation. If we do not join the revolution, and innovate, Africans would be serving the rest of the world as robots in the years to come.

 

Data Sciences and Artificial Intelligence

Growing in need and importance in the new and emerging world economy also is the study and acquisition of relevant skills in Data Sciences and Artificial Intelligence in problem solving in the economic and social sectors of most countries. Data Science has been described as an interdisciplinary field about processes and systems to extract knowledge or thoughts from data of various forms. This is a field that deals with data and extracts knowledge from it to gain useful insights on products and businesses. It therefore helps AIs figure out solutions to problems by linking similar data for future use.

This field of study has become a weapon for every business leader to lead and own a larger share of the future. The future seems to be shaping itself around artificial intelligence and as a society we need to have a deeper understanding of what is happening in this space.

Data science has been found useful in Mining, Oil and Gas, Medicine, Insurance, Telecommunication, Financial Services, Entertainment, Engineering and about every aspect of technology and in providing solutions in government and other social services sectors.

81% of IT leaders are currently investing in or planning to invest in Artificial Intelligence (AI). CIOs have mandates to integrate AI into their IT technology stacks. Market forecasts vary, but all consistently predict explosive growth.

The new trend in learning is through the use of digital interactive materials which have become one of the ways of tackling mass failure and illiteracy in our society. This trend will need to be introduced into our educational program going forward. These are flexible means of learning where scholars would have the opportunity to listen to a classroom based lecture on a specific topic as many times as possible at their own convenient time using any mobile device. This technology eliminates the constant printing of learning materials at very huge costs annually. The digital devices are updated periodically as new materials are introduced into each course profile. Revisions to courses are also updated on the devices so that they remain current and relevant at all times. The saving that this scheme will bring to our educational system is extremely huge.  This scheme will also make education available to all at minimal or no cost at all. Africa will be able through this scheme to eradicate illiteracy and accelerate its development.

It is also important to state that this scheme could subsequently be extended to our tertiary institutions and would help in the development of educational portals for these institutions. This will enable the institutions conduct online education and hereby enable scholars to study at their convenience at their locations. This will greatly help in reducing illiteracy and improving the quality of education that our people receive.

That Africa is endowed with great potentials; materially and even in human capital is not in doubt. The African mistake has been the tendency to expect the rest of the world to drive the development of Africa. That is not going to happen. If we improve our healthcare system, they will lose revenues derivable from African medical tourism, if we industrial, where would they dump their machinery and equipment, when we restructure our educational system, we will retain our best scholars at home and stop the financial haermorrhage the continent suffers annually on educational tourism. Where would they dump their excess and expired foods when we revolutionize and become self sufficient in food production in Africa? It therefore does not make economic or even commonsense to expert those whose economies are dependent on African underdevelopment to help Africa come out of the woods.  Africans must lead the charge for a great African continent, African leaders must change their mentality from grant and help seeking, to the conversion of the great natural wealth of Africa into economic advantages that would make us do business with the world on fairer terms, if not at our own terms. The resources of Africa could not have been for the development of Asia, Europe, America or any other continent for that matter.

It is for this reason that the Gregory University Uturu is committed to incorporating and developing the structures of AI and Data science and other technology driven products into its educational curriculum while at the same time leading the charge to do the same nationally.

Thank you and God bless you all.

A PAPER PRESENTED BY PROFESSOR GREGORY IBE (CHANCELLOR/FOUNDER OF GREGORY UNIVERSITY UTURU) AT THE 11TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF INSTITUTE OF ECONOMIST OF NIGERIA.

 

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