‘We need mandatory universal coverage of literacy in local languages, content’
Dr. Chris Uwaje is the Africa Chair for IEEE World Internet of Things (WIoT),former President, Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON),the Director general of Delta State Innovation Hub and also past-President of Information Technology Association of Nigeria. In this interview with Ujunwa Atueyi, in commemoration of the 2017 International Literacy Day, which had “Literacy in a Digital World,” as its theme, Uwaje said there is an urgent need for government to create programmes that would enhance digital literacy in the country.
This year’s International Literacy Day, according to UNESCO examines challenges and opportunities in promoting literacy in the digital world, how would you rate digital literacy level in Nigeria?
By Nigerian population and in comparison with other African countries, our digital literacy is still very low in terms of coverage, local-languages and content. The art of learning and governance has changed forever. Innovation has disrupted education content and processes. Future education is currently being re-defined. However, one thing is clear, future education and socio-economic activities will be digital, multimedia and mobile. And so government and concerned stakeholders must work towards increasing digital literacy in the country.
What kind of digital literacy skills do we need to navigate in a digital world?
The new economy requires new skill for global development, this means that new employment landscape is emerging worldwide and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) skills transformation becomes imperative. Currently, there is global shortage of ICT skills in many areas. Therefore, Nigeria requires new skill in the areas of Internet of Things (IoT), Internet Protocol Version Six (IPv6), Nano Technologies, Digital Security, Electronic Governance, Financial Technology (FinTech), Digital Entertainment and many more.
What is the role of government and schools in achieving digital literacy in the country?
We must start with mandatory universal coverage of literacy in local languages and content. Government must urgently establish the office of the ICT General of the federation to coordinate and centrally manage the ICT Ecosystem in Nigeria.
According to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) 2016 statistics, there are about 10.5 million Nigerian children that are out of school (OSC). This accounts for the largest population of such OSC anywhere on earth, in fact, Nigeria accounts for about 47 percent of the world’s Out of School population. In comparison, the entire population of Libya and Liberia is 10,496,000 while the population of OSC in Nigeria is approximately 10,500,000.
UNICEF data further informs that over the last decade, Nigeria’s exponential growth in population has put immense pressure on the country’s resources and on already overstretched public services and infrastructure. With children under 15 years of age accounting for about 45 per cent of the country’s population, the burden on education and other sectors has become overwhelming. 40 per cent of Nigerian children aged 6-11 do not attend primary school with the Northern region recording the lowest school attendance rate in the country.
What kind of policies and programmes will advance digital literacy skills in Nigeria?
There is an urgent need for mandatory education for all Nigerians between the ages of 6-15 years, and also establishing digital audio content literacy for children and adult. Indeed audio books are now very prominent in many bookshops. It is easy to listen and follow the instructions and narratives. There has been much talk about the emerging new world built around the concept of globalisation and technology. What we have not started talking about as a nation is how to fully prepare to engage the emerging new education-centric knowledge society.
How can digital technologies support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4?
Digital technologies can support achievement of SDG4 in various ways; first by retooling national workforce and deploying e-government policy and strategies, as well as accelerating digital education. There is also need to introduce ICT Industry Empowerment Bailout Fund; invigorating IT curriculum, introduce mandatory IT-training for all teachers and lecturers; revamp ICT skill development and entrepreneurship in primary and secondary school; introduce coding and software development in primary and secondary schools; startup and incubators. Government should also encourage e-Health, youth employment, women empowerment, state security, research and development.
Technology Innovation Investment Funding, Venture Capital and Angel Investors are also important.
How can digital literacy help reduce unemployment in the country?
The new economy requires new skill for global development, this means that new employment landscape is emerging worldwide and ICT skill transformation becomes imperative. Currently, there is global shortage of ICT skills in many areas; therefore, new skills are required in the areas of IoT, IPv6, Nano Technologies, Digital Security and Digital Entertainment among others.