From left to right, Susan Schorr ITU's head of Digital Inclusion, Dhwani Trivedi an electronics and engineering student and Mike Nxele at the Mobile Learning Week Conference in Paris

43% of the world population is now online and internet usage globally has reached a staggering 3.2 billion and over 2 billion are from developing countries however 3.9 billion which translates to 60% of the population remain without access to the internet and its advantages.

According to ITU- the United Nations Specialised Agency for Information and Communication Technologies, 6 billion do not have high-speed broadband internet. Closer to home in Africa, the richest 60% have 3 times more internet access than the poorest 40%. Furthermore, 2/3 of Africa's population remains without access to electricity which can be a major hindrance to accessing the internet at a time when global analyst say that 70 percent of the jobs which we have today will be redundant in the next decade owing to the rise of the digital economy.

What is more worrying though is the fact that women who constitute almost half of the world population reportedly have 12% lower usage of internet compared to men considering the fact that the 4th revolution of the industry will be based on technology.

These were some of the facts and figures unveiled during the just ended Mobile Learning Week which was organized by UNESCO in conjunction with ITU. The conference was held at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris between the 26th and 30th of March 2018.

Running under the theme; “Skills for a Connected World”, the conference attracted delegates from all over the world with the objective of examining skills needed for a digital economy and society with a focus on digital skills and competencies. The workshop also reviewed strategies and ways in which these skills can be used within the context of the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4).

I was taken aback by the fact that 77% of the future jobs will require digital skills yet women were still lagging behind in acquiring skills needed for the future. These alarming figures are a sharp contradiction to SDG goal 4 and 5 which deal with quality education and gender equality respectively.

 ITU, an organisation running a campaign to ensure more women take up ICTs, said that about 4 billion non-users of the internet, women were up to 50% of those less likely to be connected owing to skills awareness and cultural acceptance related issues.

“Access is still a big challenge. Besides matters of access, we are still seized with the challenges of affordability as real barriers to inclusion. Illiteracy and lack of awareness of the value and benefits of ICTs is still a real matter of concern. Without the capacity to build, there is nothing to leverage. In the information society, the real digital divide will be the knowledge divide.” 

This comes as no surprise as 13% of the world population live beyond the poverty datum line and according to the World Bank, women among the poorest people in the world.

Theophania Chavatzia, a programme officer with UNESCO said the gender-divided that existed in the ICTs sector was a global phenomenon. She said they conducted a survey which revealed that girls were indeed under-represented.

“There were instances in which girls were under competing boys and when girls were overperforming. The gap between the times when girls were performing better than boys and the gap between the two is huge. It means that there are no intellectual impediments which mean there are conceptual attitudes which affect girls and boys attitudes,” she said.

It became abundantly clear to me that we need to close the gap between us and technology as it is our best friend. It also occurred to me during this highly informative conference that we need to prepare ourselves for professions that do not exist right now.

Take for instance the company Airbnb for instance, it does not own any hotel but it is running a thriving accommodation business, Uber is another example, it does not have a single taxi but it is in the business of transporting people. This is simply because they have exploited the opportunities presented by the digital economy. What these business owners is an app which links clients to service providers and they make money.

Women, therefore, have an opportunity here to do the same with their business especially those in the so-called domestic work services. Celebrated Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembwa whose work challenges gender dynamics gave a TedTalk where she challenged people to shift their focus to the creative economy. This talk really got me excited and got me thinking that this is a business whose only capital resource was one's creativity and it rings true in terms of the digital economy as well where ones major capital resource would be one's creativity and these are some of the ideas which filtered throughout the MLW.

The conference was an eye opener for me on a personal level to new possibilities in my career going forward. Before this conference, I was one of those people who were afraid of the rate of influence the digital world has especially in my profession. I was one of those who really believed that the digital era was the enemy and that machines had come to destroy all our jobs. Who can blame me for how social media has become the primary source of information. We were taught in journalism school that news is information that has not yet been made public. But during the MLW, I discovered that these so-called enemies were Friends in disguise or frenemies and some would like to call them. They can actually be useful and complementary to our efforts.

As a Democrat, I would not be one to tell anyone what to do but I think everyone should take it upon themselves to attain these digital skills not only because 50% of the jobs need some degree of technology today whether this job is in Banking and Finance, Entertainment, Fashion, the domestic skills like Catering, Cleaning, but because those businesses which have a digital footprint make more profit. Politicians of the old school era like Zimbabwean president ED have jumped on the wagon and so should everybody.

For instance, those in the catering and fashion industry just need to market their wares on the internet and see them flourish. This growth in eCommerce is threatening some established retail businesses. For instance, Toys 'R' Us is closing many of its outlets in the United States and the United Kingdom due to the growth of online shopping. Closer to home, names like Ruby Lynn, Prisca Maguranyanga, Joyline Munikwa, Jane and Cosmas come to mind. I have watched these Zimbabwean women develop their brands and market their businesses online and make a success out of it as they manage to attract clients from all over the world within seconds.

Some of the skills and competencies that will be critical going forward include; Intelligence for Artificial Intelligence, critical inquiry, emotional literacy, attention, mindfulness, reflection, kindness, collaboration, dialogue, compassion and perspective.

I was also taken aback by the fact that there were no delegates from Zimbabwe save for Nxele, who was attending the conference on behalf of his organisation ITU. My heart yearned to see some sort of representation especially from the Nelson Chamisa led MDC whose electoral campaign is based on promises of a more digitally advanced Zimbabwe but I guess it was a bit too much to expect.

It was heartbreaking that Zimbabwe could not be represented at such a meeting where ideas from people with similar backgrounds were unveiled. The presentation from rural areas in Paraguay struck a code in me. The area is remote and does not have electricity and a reliable internet connection yet they still found ways to apply mobile learning tools to students at an agricultural college.
The presentation pointed to the fact that students were more engaged and understood better because of the methods of teaching where at least 80% of the students were motivated and 81% recorded an improvement in technical skills.

Almost all the presenters spoke about how these mobile platforms would by no means replace the work that teachers were doing but would help the teaching process in capturing attention and participation among students.

One would want to ask how mobile learning is possible in areas like Zimbabwe where we have erratic electricity supply and access to the internet is somewhat limited. The answer is simple, lessons can be downloaded on a flash drive and can be used in class using a laptop. Also, students can make use of their cell phones.

It's no secret that most students would rather skip a meal to buy data for their cellphones if comes to that. On the issue of laptops, these can be charged using solar energy or in Zimbabwe generators or even car batteries.

It became abundantly clear to me that we need to close the gap between us and technology as it is our best friend. It also occurred to me during this highly informative conference that we need to prepare ourselves for professions as we edge towards the digital industrial revolution.


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