Sub-Saharan Africa Digital Divide
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to some of the world’s poorest and most marginalized people. More than 1 billion people, constituting more than 14% of the world’s population, live in extreme poverty in the region. A multitude of problems plague sub-Saharan Africa, ranging from disease to malnourishment and violence. The crux of the matter lies in its deep history of a developing nation hindered by imperialistic roots. Through the progression of time, it has become clear that there is one major obstacle in the region’s way to betterment – technology. In other words, a stark digital divide in sub-Saharan Africa exists.

Reversing the Digital Divide

As technology spreads over the developed world at a record rate, lesser developed and developing countries fall behind. Tech giants like Apple, Google and Microsoft only cater to major markets in the United States, China, Europe and India. As a result, the 14% of the world population in sub-Saharan Africa that can barely afford a basic cell phone, much less a smartphone, usually cannot access these technologies. Around 90% of children in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to a computer and around 80% do not enjoy a basic internet connection. Thus, the sub-Saharan Africa digital divide has emerged as a major source of its current predicament.

To make matters worse, the global COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the issue and revealed new technological problems. However, hope is on the horizon. New nonprofit companies and the aid of notable philanthropists around the world are hard at work to eradicate the sub-Saharan Africa digital divide. Due to this, the field of STEM is heating up as a hot prospect for economic and developmental opportunities. Here are three strategies that sub-Saharan Africa has implemented and can work to implement to industrialize and develop the region.

3 Strategies For Reversing the Digital Divide in Sub-Saharan Africa

  1. Making investments for a digital future. Investing money into digital-based infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa is a future-proof way of bettering the region. Specifically, the distribution of technologies like phones, computers, cell towers and adequate internet connections continues to be a major priority for organizations based in the region. A survey revealed that only one in 100 people on average have access to television in sub-Saharan Africa. In contrast, this rate becomes only one in three when the sample size focuses on cities. The results of this survey unequivocally show that industrializing the region holds many positive results. In recent years, organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Computers 4 Africa have donated more to fuel this purpose. Computer drops for schools and other university institutions have also been a major part of this concerted effort. The results are showing. Since the early 2000s, internet penetration in the region has grown by a factor of 10. This increase shows the region drawing closer to bridging the gap of the sub-Saharan Africa digital divide.
  2. Creating new jobs in the Information Technology (IT) sector. Increasing employment opportunities in the IT sector is a major way to boost sub-Saharan African economies. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Jaishree Mahalingam, current project manager for AIG and former IT professional for Toyota in Dallas, said that “in the future, IT will have far more importance…[translating to] greater social mobility for many people who are interested in STEM.” For critics who argue against the viability of a proper university education system in computer science and IT, Mahalingam goes on to state that higher degrees like a Ph.D. are not necessary for a sufficient education. Instead, “a Master’s degree [is] more than sufficient in progressing in a career.” However, Mahalingam does acknowledge that there should be a balance in the education system, encouraging its teaching outside of high school because doing so allows “greater exposure to the field.”As for finding new solutions to address the digital divide, Mahalingam recommends “greater government investment into STEM schools and digitalization through banking and other mechanisms to help expand the IT field.”
  3. Tackling the finance sector through technology. As cell phone use expands in sub-Saharan Africa, more and more individuals look to the future of the financial industry. Now, banking applications that are common in the United States must transition over to another continent. Enter FinTech: the newest player in revolutionizing African financial technology. Currently, only around one-third of the sub-Saharan African population holds bank accounts. However, the ongoing mobile revolution has led to an increased demand for an easier money transaction system. FinTech allows for easy financial exchanges across countries in the region through a mobile platform. Additionally, it is not the only one of its kind. Startup companies like 22Seven, Nomanini, Cellulant and GetBucks are all growing in Africa as easy money-transfer digital networks. Collectively, they serve more than 45 million customers in Africa and hope to greatly expand beyond that figure. Mahalingam agrees that “expanding things like access to bank accounts would greatly add to the interest of millions.”

Sub-Saharan Africa is slowly digging its way out of the digital divide it faces today. With the help of several organizations, more emphasis on economic growth through STEM and new financial-based breakthroughs, the region is constantly facing more opportunities for improvement. By catalyzing a technological revolution in sub-Saharan Africa, the world is ensuring that its inhabitants lead more enriching, productive and prosperous lives for years to come. Technology drives the future; sub-Saharan Africa is taking one large step to embrace it.

Mihir Gokhale
Photo: Flickr

Computers in Ghana
As one of the world’s poorest countries, Ghana’s poverty rate rests at around 55% with only 24% of Ghanaians possessing access to the internet. As a consequence, this lack of access otherwise imposes economic stagnation on its youth population due to the mere lack of computers within the country’s education system. However, educators have recently begun utilizing this powerful resource of computers in Ghana access and information technology within communities — with its positive impact already beginning to show. While computers evolve and improve Ghana’s education system, upward economic mobility grows with it. Here are three ways that computers and new technologies are improving the standard of living in Ghana:

Teaching 21st-Century Job Skills to Teens

Including computers in the Ghanaian education system helps teens develop valuable 21st-century technology skills. In an era that places great emphasis on phones, laptops and wireless communications, technological proficiency is essential. Programs like the Ghana Code Club have taught nearly 1,700 students and trained over 300 teachers. However, the Ghana Code Club cannot replace computer science classes. Moreover, for Ghana’s youth to learn valuable computer skills such as coding, the Ghanaian education system will need to create more computer, science classes and further boost access to computers in Ghana.

Increasing Earning Power and Incomes

A Pew Survey showed that computer users with an internet connection are more likely to have higher incomes. To that end, the University of Ghana offers a dedicated computer science course, nurturing software programmers who have the potential to earn up to three times as much as their professors. However, only expanding these systems will truly allow them to reach a wider demographic of people. Currently, only around 36 people graduate from the University of Ghana’s technology program annually. Many other areas of the country still do not experience these positive impacts.

Breaking Gender Stereotypes

Although computers in Ghana are expanding social and economic standards, many traditional African communities profile against women and girls. New non-governmental organizations like STEMbees, a Ghana-based organization, allow young girls to learn coding in fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Other organizations – such as UNESCO’s Girls Can Code – also work to fight the battle against girl stereotypes in the African educational sphere. For example, UNESCO builds computer stations in Ghanaian villages and new schools equipped with the latest technologies.

Ghana is on the verge of a technological revolution as well as an industrial revolution. These two events will pull the country into a better future with greater opportunity for its children. As more computers get into the hands of Ghanaian students, the country’s standard of living continues to improve.

– Mihir Gokhale
Photo: Flickr

Computer Access in GhanaAs one of the world’s poorest African countries, Ghana has a poverty rate that touches roughly 55 percent of its population, with only 24% possessing internet access. This acute problem owes itself in part to a large number of its youth, who grow up in the absence education accessibility. However, educators have begun to combat the ailments of impoverished Ghanaian communities. To do this, they utilize the fundamental cornerstone of a globalized world- computer technology. Computers have empowered Ghana’s poverty-stricken youth. As a result, they gain greater access to future job security and change the course of their own lives, along with the communities they inhabit. Below are three ways that computers and new technologies are improving the standard of living in Ghana.

Teaching 21st-Century Job Skills to Teens

The inclusion of computer access within the Ghanaian education system allows teens to develop valuable 21st-century technology literacy. It stands to open critical doors to higher education. In an era that is inarguably dominated by mobile phones, laptops, and wireless communications, access proves paramount. Programs like those presented by Ghana Code Club, which has taught nearly 1,700 students and trained over 300 teachers, enrich Ghana’s youth specifically with computer science as well as coding languages classes, paving the way for future innovations, as well as national economic growth.

Increasing Earning Potential

A Pew Survey showed that computer users connected to the internet are more likely to have higher incomes. The University of Ghana offers a dedicated computer science course that nurtures software programmers, who have the potential to earn up to three times as much as their professors. However, only through expansion will these opportunities allow them to truly reach a wide demographic. Increased computer access in Ghana is difficult to ensure. Currently, only around 36 people graduate from the University of Ghana’s technology program annually. Vast areas of the country are still shielded from these positive impacts.

Breaking the Gender Stereotype

Despite the computer’s role in expanding social and economic standards in Ghana, many traditional African communities restrict women and girls on the basis of acceptable gender roles. Although, new non-governmental organizations like STEMbees, a Ghana-based organization, inspire and allow young girls to break the stigma and enter into the fields of coding science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Other organizations, like UNESCO’s Girls Can Code, also work to fight the ongoing battle against gender stereotypes in the African educational sphere. Methods that implement computer stations in Ghanaian villages and equip new schools with current technology continue to increase computer access in Ghana.

Ghana now finds itself in the unique position of being on the verge of a technological revolution that coincides with its industrial revolution. Each of the two transformational eras is set to drive the country towards a prosperous future. This future, additionally, carries with it the promise of greater opportunity for Ghanaian children. Average Ghanaian students gaining access to computer technology furthers the assurance of a better standard of living for Ghanaian citizens. Over time, this development can carry on for generations to come.

Mihir Gokhale
Photo: Flickr

Unconventional Education ProvidersPoor infrastructure contributes to the fact that one in five children around the world lacks access to quality basic education. In general, supporting basic education in specific regions requires a massive increase in basic infrastructure, teaching staff and educational supplies. In Turkey, the gap between the demand for education funding for Syrian refugee children and the actual amount received reached 43 percent. Due to conflict in the region, 70 percent of children are out of school. With so much content created and shared online, the internet now is a reservoir of knowledge. These unconventional education providers are trying to bring education to struggling areas through technology.

Unconventional Education Providers

Internet companies dominate online resources and access. Companies such as Microsoft and Google frequently cooperate with non-profit organizations for philanthropic purposes. The primary goal for many of these organizations is to offer accessible education through innovative solutions. Google, for example, made a five-year, $1 billion commitment to improve access to education through partnerships. In particular, Google contributed $5 million to Learning Equality and its offline educational platform Kolibri as a way to promote an innovative way of providing primary education.

Funded by Google, Kolibri is a free education solution that includes both device and content for users who have limited internet access. Content like KA Lite has been installed in 200 countries and reached 4.5 million learners. Besides the widely spreading installations, training personnel in these regions is another major objective for this unconventional education provider. Kolibri project inspired the implementation of a similar platform in Jordan where 10 learning hubs trained 40 Syrian refugees to be Kolibri coaches or coordinators within 10 days.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence provides internet companies with a distinct method in their mission to reduce poverty. In 2018, Microsoft initiated AI for Humanitarian Action, a five-year program funded with $40 million that applies artificial intelligence in poverty-related issues. Artificial intelligence can help NGOs in disaster response, childcare and education, the livelihoods of refugees and human rights.

Companies are working on ways to make AI even more efficient. In many impoverished areas, there is a shortage of qualified teachers. As AI continues to develop and improve, it will be able to perform more complex grading tasks. Companies are already working on translation software to offer more content to children in a variety of languages.

Women in Coding

Women suffer from gender inequality all around the world, but more so in impoverished regions. One of the ways to combat this is through acquiring an education. Some unconventional education providers are giving these women a way out of poverty through learning how to code. The nonprofit STEMbees is giving women and girls in Africa the chance to learn to code. In Lagos, Nairobi and Kampala, women engineers make up 30 percent of their total employment.

In short, via funding or technological support to other non-profit organizations, internet companies have become unconventional education providers. The technology they are developing gives impoverished people access to more knowledge at a lower cost. With so many connected online, it may be a good time to start thinking about how to use the internet to help to fight poverty.

Dingnan Zhang
Photo: Prlog.org