According to analysis by the United Nations (UN), digital technology is developing faster than any other innovation in human history. But the benefits it brings aren’t being felt by everyone, not least because many people lack the skills to access the online world. With the right partnerships and approach, however, this is starting to change.
In just 20 years, digital technology has impacted approximately 50 percent of the population of developing countries, transforming social conditions. But those without Internet access are unable to enjoy the benefits of the digital era and have fallen even further behind. Two factors have contributed to their predicament: a lack of network coverage and a lack of digital skills. According to a Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) report, 10 percent of the world live in places that still do not have broadband network coverage, but 43 percent of people are still not connected even though they have network coverage.
Mastering digital skills is key to helping people work more efficiently and making life more convenient. In addition to the availability of the technology itself, obtaining digital skills is also extremely important and is becoming more so with each passing day. In sub-Saharan Africa for example, a recent World Bank report points out that due to the rapid development of the global digital economy, 230 million jobs in the region will require digital skills by 2030. This sits in stark contrast to the widespread lack of digital skills in the region. Even in Kenya, where ICT infrastructure is better, less than 50 percent of people use the Internet, even though 3G and 4G networks cover 80 percent of the population. The reason for this is not just because over 75 percent of Kenyans live in rural and remote areas without a stable power supply, it’s also because many don’t realize the economic value of digital skills and have never even used a smartphone or gone online.
Change starts with a truck
To help Kenyans improve their digital awareness and digital skills, Huawei set up a DigiTruck digital mobile classroom, in partnership with the Belgian nonprofit Close the Gap, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), GSMA, Computers for Schools Kenya (CFSK), and the Kenyan operator Safaricom. The project will provide digital empowerment for remote and rural areas.
The DigiTruck project seeks to:
- Improve teachers’ digital skills and their ability to apply ICT skills in their teaching.
- Help young people to master digital skills needed for employment.
- Provide basic digital skills training for people who have never been online.
- Promote reading and self-learning using digital content.
- Ensure those without Internet access, such as displaced people, refugees, and the rural poor, can get online.
Speaking about the project, Executive Vice President of the Huawei Kenya Representative Office, Adam Lane, says, “Our mission is to bring digital to every person, home, and organization. We launched the DigiTruck project after learning some people in Kenya needed help. It’s the latest effort in Huawei’s TECH4ALL initiative to promote equal access to high-quality education.”
In fact, there are a number of different DigiTruck projects in Africa initiated by Close the Gap and its partners. “Their aim,” explains Oliver Vanden Eynde, CEO of Close the Gap Kenya, “is to harness technology to help achieve a level playing field and create opportunities for people in adverse circumstances or remote, poverty-stricken areas.”
The first few DigiTrucks have brought tangible change. They have helped Teresia, who has just started university, to get the same start as her peers and no longer feel isolated from the world. They have allowed farmer Daniel to sell his agricultural products online, making life much better and helping him to afford his son’s school fees more easily. And they have also helped housewife and keen cook Agnes to learn the basics of store management through online tutorials, helping her achieve her dream of opening a cake shop. Now Huawei has taken up the baton to give hope to more Kenyans like Teresia, Daniel, and Agnes.
Huawei’s DigiTruck is a converted container that has been converted into a mobile digital classroom. Inside the 12-meter-long compartment, a digital space with smart devices like laptops, LED screens, virtual reality (VR) headsets, smartphones, and routers has been set up. Onboard the truck, students can use the smartphones and laptops to learn Internet skills thanks to ubiquitous wireless broadband access. The VR equipment on the truck also allows more innovative educational tools to be incorporated into the classroom. The entire truck is solar-powered, so that classes can be held even in remote areas without electricity.
To go far, go together
As the old African proverb goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Huawei’s DigiTruck and the entire digital inclusion program depend on the extensive support and assistance of our partners.
At HUAWEI CONNECT 2019, Huawei and UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa signed an MoU and announced that they would collaborate to promote digital skills and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities in Africa to help the UN achieve its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) faster. The partnership will focus on the following areas:
Help improve digital skills among teachers and young people and explore how to use AI and cloud computing to solve problems in education, science, culture and communication, and address current sustainability challenges in order to transform African society.
Integrate AI into ICT skills certification and training programs in universities and technical training institutions in Eastern Africa.
Establish mechanisms and organize forums, involving policymakers, technicians, and AI experts to provide effective solutions for sustainable development.
Promote local development and help refugees, internally displaced people, and other groups that lack social services to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to live fulfilling lives.
At the signing ceremony, the Director of UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa, Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, underlined the importance of establishing digital skills in Africa and the tremendous opportunity for digital technology to improve the quality and availability of education.
Tao Jingwen, The Chairman of Huawei’s Corporate Sustainable Development Committee, said at the signing, “Huawei is not only fully committed to this initiative but recognizes the importance of collaboration with partners in order to implement this ambitious program and achieve wide-scale and sustainable impact. UNESCO is an excellent partner for us, not only in expanding digital skills to those in remote areas but also in the use of technology to improve education where they have extensive experience and expertise. We are delighted to be working with them and hope to expand the relationship in the future.”
He added, “Huawei is fully committed to the TECH4ALL initiative and recognizes the importance of working with partners. Only through broad-ranging cooperation can we achieve wide-scale and sustainable impact. UNESCO is an excellent partner for us, not only in expanding digital skills to those in remote areas, but also in harnessing technology to improve education, where they have extensive experience. We are delighted to be working with them and hope to explore further possibilities for collaboration.”
Going forward, Huawei hopes to work with more partners, including enterprises, governments, and NGOs, to solve social issues across a broader scope and work towards building a fully connected, intelligent world.