Time to invest in ICT

Vince Musewe

By Vince Musewe

DEAR President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Your Excellency, I would like to draw your attention to the need to invest in ICT as a matter of urgency if we are to remain relevant in today’s fast-changing world. A highly developed human capital base will be the source of competitive advantage in the 21st century global economy.

Human capital, or the education, skill levels, and problem-solving abilities will be the competitive advantage of nations because they enable individuals to be innovative and productive in a highly competitive global economy. It is, therefore, essential for us to invest in this and to also rethink our economic growth strategies if we are to be a competitive nation in the future.

The rapid expansion of new digital technologies requires a totally different approach to human capital development. Countries must now focus more on the quality of education as opposed to mere access to education.

Expansion of school attainment has not guaranteed improved economic conditions especially in developing nations. It is critical that we look at the quality of education and not quantity. We need a new approach.

Your Excellency, the developed world is now dominated by brain-intensive industries which include, among others, computers and software, robotics and machine tools, microelectronics, material sciences, biotechnology and telecommunications.

What used to be primary (inventing new products) has become secondary, and what used to be secondary (inventing and perfecting new processes) has become primary.

These require significantly different skills than in the past.

Your Excellency, Asia is a clear example where reinventing new products and perfecting new production processes has created significant economic growth.

Zimbabwe should do the same.

The country’s rapid urbanisation is leading to an unsteady increase in youth population in metropolitan and urban areas.

The impacts of job and training availability, and the physical, social and cultural quality of urban environment on young people are huge, and influence their health, lifestyles, and well-being.

Besides this, globalisation and technological developments are affecting youth in urban areas in all parts of the world, both positively and negatively.

Your Excellency, the rapidly advancing information and communication technologies (ICTs) can help in addressing social and economic problems caused by the fast growth of urban youth populations in developing countries.

ICTs offer opportunities to young people for learning, skill development and employment.

But there are downsides, young people in many developing countries do not have broad access to these new technologies.

Equitable access to information, knowledge and education is one of the most vital principles in the emerging global knowledge economy.

ICTs are practical tools in narrowing knowledge gaps between countries, regions and also people by providing new frontiers in the areas of information exchange, intellectual freedom and online education.

ICT can make a great contribution to human development, but only for those that have access.

Your Excellency, it is important that we acknowledge the following key principles which must guide our youth policy in ICT. These include acceptance that;

  • Access to information is a right and not a privilege
  •  Youth with no access to ICT face digital exclusion
  •  Promoting youth employment and employability requires important integrated effort that includes affordable and broad access to ICT
  •  Applying ICTs in education is a key to providing young people with ICT skills for them to adapt to the knowledge economy.
  •  The key success factors are access to and pricing of new technologies and affordable broad band
  •  ICT-based initiatives can promote inclusion by supporting youth resilience factors
  •  Young people mainly use ICT technologies as an educational resource, for entertainment, games and fun, for searching for global information and for social networking, sharing experiences with distant others.
  • Being digitally literate is relevant to employability as it empowers individuals to participate in society’s economic and cultural activities. ICT skills can be seen as ‘gateway skills’ without which a person’s likelihood of finding employment would be significantly reduced.

Key actions which need to be taken include:

Providing ICT and skills training education

  • Create awareness of the importance of and facilitating the early introduction of ICT skills in schools
  • Sourcing and availing affordable ICT technologies for use by the youth
  •  Universal access to ICT at educational institutions
  •  Attract and incentivise private sector investment at ICT training colleges

Promotion of ICT internships and incubators

  • Establish ICT-based incubators in each province
  •  Promote ICT internships in both private and public sectors

Partnering with international ICT organisations/NGOs

  •  Identify those international organisations in the ICT sector and work with them to promote youth development.
  •  Establish ICT student exchange programmes with institutions in developed economies
  • Place youths with ICT skills in jobs or projects
  •  Create a national database of ICT-skilled youth
  • Place youths in practical projects and companies so that they gain the relevant experience
  • ICT employment generation through entrepreneurship
  • Promote youth  ICT entrepreneurs
  • Invest in youth ICT projects

Your Excellency, to achieve this, we will require high-impact investments in education, science and technology. A vibrant private sector is key for creating jobs, producing and marketing sophisticated goods and services and latching on to the global value chains.

The potential impact of new ICT-based technologies on economic and industrial development is unimaginable. One thing that is certain is that those countries which ignore this new wave will do so at their own peril.

The challenge to developing countries and governments is the urgent recalibration of their industrial development plans and the creation of new ecosystems which facilitate early adaption. Education will be key.

Your Excellency, the World Economic Forum (WEF) advised that governments should provide impetus for research, infrastructure, IT security and education.

According to the WEF, it will be important to have the right regulatory impetus from government, in a co-ordinated form, across national borders.

The WEF has identified four key issues which need immediate attention by governments as follows:

  • Creating an ecosystem where innovations can grow through support for application-related research and investments.
  •  Establishment of an area-wide IT infrastructure and fast internet access are basic requirements. “Industry 4.0 needs, not just more bandwidth, but also very fast transfer times, combined with maximum availability.”
  •  IT security is essential to the success of Industry 4.0. Digitalisation and cybersecurity have to go hand-in-hand.
  • All levels of education have to be reoriented to the new digital developments. “Expanded skills in IT, software, programming, communications technology, IT security and data analysis will be indispensable for future industrial applications.”

At the centre of our future is ICT and if our youths are going to be gainfully economically active, they need new ICT skills from primary level.

  • Vince Musewe is an economist. He writes here in his personal capacity.