KEMMCOM Media and Communications

From Skills to Transformative Adoption: Why the conversation on digital literacy needs to move to usability and community building in Africa

With schools across Africa using national curricula heading towards the close of their academic year, while others finishing the first half of it; we examine why it is timely to tackle the continent wide issue of digital literacy with the objectives of usability and community building.

After a three-year journey of overhauling its sluggish education system, the Ethiopian Ministry of Education announced in August 2022 that the revision of the country’s pre-primary, primary, and secondary school education curriculum was now complete.

In a consequential stage that will affect the destiny of close to 30 million learners across the different levels, new textbooks and teacher-learner guides were published. When schools kicked off their academic year in September 2022, students were welcomed into their schools with some of these new books and a retrained teacher workforce.

Among the massive revisions changes in the way, science and technology are thought through middle and high school. The curriculum now includes ICT as a subject for grades 7 and 8, but, like its predecessor, the latest curriculum made little effort to promote the adoption of important skills and how those skills can go towards building a digital ecosystem supporting the development of students’ other interests. In the syllabus, there is no mention of digital safety, responsible social media use, building digital economies, or how the skills achieved in ICT are expected to empower the digital transformation of the learner, whether they go on to become coders and software engineers or engage in other professions.

Other African countries such as Ghana and South Sudan have taken initiatives to educate their youth about digital literacy by including social media into their high school curricula without the issues of tackling responsible use, safety, or how it links to the digital economy. While this is a positive step, there is still a long way to go because the matter is not being addressed in depth. It is critical to recognise that digital safety is a constantly growing problem that necessitates continuing education and skill improvement. As a result, addressing digital safety problems in a comprehensive and effective manner necessitates a consistent effort on the part of educators, legislators, and stakeholders.

Increased access in a digital” generation

The internet is becoming more accessible to everyone, particularly the youth, in this day and age. Ethio Telecom, Ethiopia’s state-owned internet service provider puts the number of mobile subscribers on its network at 64.5 million, mobile data subscribers at 26.1 Million, and Fixed Broadband subscribers reached 506.8K in its annual report covering the 2014 Ethiopian Fiscal Year. With total teledensity in the country surpassing 60% (or around a 72million users) for the first time, the numbers indicate rapid growth, albeit from a low base.

According to the World Bank ICT indicator index, 17% of the Ethiopian population, 28% of eastern and southern African population and 47% of western and Central African population uses the internet. Young adolescents in schools, aged 13 to 18, have access to the internet particularly the social media world without fully understanding the opportunities and risks that come with it.

For this generation, social media is the internet, whereas, for millennials, it is “something on the internet.” Staying connected with friends and family, enhancing creativity, meeting and interacting with others, learning about current events, accessing and sharing information, and other activities are all advantages of using social media at a young age.

However, if not properly managed, it is easy to veer off to the other side of social media. Social media can serve as a platform for several potentially-harmful activities.

Online privacy and safety concerns

Young adolescents may unintentionally share more personal information online than they should. Without the poster’s knowledge, social media applications may reveal the poster’s location, name, phone number, birth date, and other personal information. And, if not carefully considered, people may reveal such information without fully comprehending the action or the dangers it may entail.

In Africa, the use of digital financial services is growing, with more than 7% of Africans using the internet for online transactions and more than 35% making or receiving digital payments. With the AU aiming to have 99.9% of Africans have a digital legal identity as part of a civil registration process by 2030 and to boost cross-border digital trade and e-commerce, this figure is only anticipated to rise.

With the increasing usage of digital financial services comes privacy and safety concerns such as risks of fraud and scams.  It is important to teach about the usage and protection of passwords, and other financial information to protect the youth from such activities.

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying, bullying that occurs through the use of digital technologies, is a repeated behavior intended to intimidate or threaten those who are targeted.

Young adolescents can become victims of cyberbullying or perpetrate it themselves. It is critical to teach adolescents how to deal with it as well as the impact it has on others when they engage in the act.

Spreading Misinformation or disinformation

The spread of misinformation and disinformation might be one of the main concerns regarding social media usage in Africa at the moment. In some cases, wrong information can spread by misunderstanding, whilst in other cases, it is misleading by design. Because misinformation is frequently presented as news and/or fact, detecting it can be difficult for young adolescents if the right tools are not available. Therefore, it is important to teach the youth how to spot misinformation/ disinformation and stop spreading it.

Policymaking in a new reality

As policymakers around the world grapple with emerging trends and dangers of the misuse of social media, those in the education space could consider looking at ways of introducing informed social media use in their education systems. This would help learners benefit from all of the positive aspects of social media while avoiding the negative aspects.