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Telecoms body decries low digital skills as Internet access drags in LDC

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ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao


United Nations arm in charge of global telecommunications, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has frowned at rising dearth of digital skills.
  
ITU said digital skills remained a critical requirement in digital economic transition, even as it decried that 80 per cent of people in Least Developed Countries (LDC) lack access to the Internet.
  
The telecoms body stated this yesterday, when it unveiled the 2020 edition of “Digital Skills Insights”, a collection of articles by international experts on the impact of digital transformation on capacity and skills development.
   
The Digital Skills Insights review the interrelationship between digital connectivity and digital skills, as well as the correlation with education, gender, digital divides and the transformative aspects within the labour market.
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ITU said none of these should be addressed in isolation but be part of a holistic approach to ensure countries’ successful transition to a digital economy.
   
ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao, said the document provides a body of knowledge that will facilitate academic research and innovation; inform policy debates and decisions among policy-makers and regulators; and help the private sector to anticipate and plan for human capital requirements and skills.
  
“The vital importance of digital skills to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals has been brought into sharp perspective during the COVID-19 crisis.”The expert contributions in ‘Digital Skills Insights’ are helping to ensure that digital skill gaps do not exacerbate existing inequalities.”
  
Making reference to ITU data, Zhao observed that in 2019, 46 per cent of the world population was not using the Internet. He said this number increased to almost 80 per cent in least developed countries (LDC).
  
He said a large majority of the global population (93 per cent) lives in an area covered by at least a 3G mobile signal/service, however, the lack of skills is a barrier for many to use the Internet’s full potential.
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Checks by The Guardian showed that Internet penetration in Nigeria is about 62. 9 per cent penetration according to Internetworldstats, while the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) said 149 million Nigerians have access.  In terms of broadband, NCC put users at 82.6 million, with a penetration capacity of 43.3 per cent.  

Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT), Doreen Bogdan-Martin, said: “In the wake of COVID–19, the importance of digital skills has never been so evident, nor so urgent. Those lucky enough to enjoy fast connectivity took refuge from the global health emergency by moving to a virtual environment for economic continuity, education, and interpersonal contact.

“However, those lacking access to digital networks and skills were left even further behind. I hope this publication stimulates important discussions on the best strategies to rapidly strengthen the capacities and skills required to profit fully from the benefits of digital transformation.”
     
To address digital skills gaps, ITU said the “Digital Skills Insights” provides concrete suggestions and recommendations on how some of these challenges can be addressed to better understand and bridge the digital divide, such as governments, businesses, educational systems and society need to work together to support a dynamic workforce and constantly redefine the skills demanded by future jobs.

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ITU said further training and retraining will be necessary since employees will have to engage in lifelong learning if they are to be capable of responding to changes in skills requirements triggered by automation and digitization.
   
It recommended that data literacy among citizens should be tackled by policy makers and practitioners through targeted data literacy programmes to enhance citizens’ abilities to participate in the digital society.
   
In reference to sub-Saharan Africa, the telecoms body said building human capital, specifically in digital skills, is critical for the region to leverage the benefits of the digital economy.
    
ITU stressed that female participation in digital skills capacity development programmes can be increased by including more women in the programme design, reaching out to parents and community leaders in the recruitment of participants, and engaging female career role models.
   
Besides, it pointed out that bridging the digital gender gap relies on gender-responsive ICT policy and therefore the digital capabilities of policy-makers need to be strengthened for them to better understand the barriers to Internet access women face, and to equip them with the tools to promote more gender-inclusive public policy.      
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In this article:
Houlin ZhaoITULDCtelecoms
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