Breaking the poverty spiral by educating the African IT workforce


By Alfie Hamid, Regional Manager Cisco Systems: Corporate Affairs Sub-Saharan Africa

Developing well-educated workforces is the first step towards job creation, well-paid jobs and the growth of the middle class, where economic prosperity is more of a reality for a greater number of people.

That said, the World Economic Forum's Education Skills Report, published in January this year, suggested that in six years' time there will be 95 million too many unskilled workers for the available jobs and 40 million too few skilled workers for the jobs available worldwide. Given that the two great equalisers are education and the Internet, it is fair to say that Africa is at the centre of this crisis, with access to the Internet, content and infrastructure a very real issue. Added to this is the prediction that the working population in Africa is set to double by 2020, becoming the largest worldwide by 2040.

It is essential, therefore, to work towards solving this problem now, by investing not only in the technology required to be competitive with the rest of the world, but also in the skill sets needed to implement this technology. The most effective way of doing this is not to focus on traditional models of education as much as drawing on the Internet of Things (IoT) to reach a wider population in the spaces they are in and on the devices they have access to and understand. This speaks to Salman Khan's idea of democratising education to make it free and accessible to all.

Cisco has developed the Networking Academy programme and formed several partnerships with businesses, governments and educational institutions across Africa in line with this way of thinking. There are more than 870 academies throughout the continent linked to NGOs, schools and universities, with 60 000 active students taking part in the programmes offered. From computer clubs for young children and courses teaching basic knowledge of how to use a computer, to A+ computer technician courses on understanding hardware and software, Linux Essentials courses, CCNA accreditation and even networking courses in Sign Language for the deaf community, the aim is to equip students with practical skills to succeed in the working world. Teachers are not forgotten either – through a partnership with Vodacom, mobile teacher resource centres are an effective way of upskilling Maths and Science teachers without them needing to sacrifice teaching time by travelling to attend courses elsewhere.

This year has seen a peak in education within the IT industry in Africa as it is transforming and there is a need to ensure that the necessary skill sets exist to sustain this growth. However, the idea is not that Cisco provides this free training to make money, control mitigation or bring in employees. Instead, the goal is to collaborate to break the poverty spiral by giving every individual the opportunity to get an education, use technology to change the way people learn and develop a mindset of continuous learning for the benefit of society.

If you grow gross domestic product (GDP) at one percent per annum, it typically takes a generation to double the standard of living. If you could drive GDP consistently above five percent, it would take about 15 years to do the same. It is only by ensuring that African countries have citizens with the right skills to fill the jobs necessary to compete with the rest of the world that this is a possibility for the continent. Given the information age we live in, upskilling in the IT industry certainly makes sense as the first step to take in this journey.

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