As the world rapidly transitions into a digitized society, digital literacy has become more important than ever. The ability to find, evaluate, and communicate information utilizing digital platforms is critically essential to succeed in today’s world.
In Ethiopia, many institutions that once relied on paper are transitioning into the computer era. Even at the grassroots level, such as Kebeles and Weredas, public employees have found themselves in front of computer screens to conduct their day-to-day tasks.
Simultaneously, many formal jobs in the private sector require computer and basic technical skills. Employers in Ethiopia expect job applicants to possess basic computer skills, such as using emails for effective communication and writing and editing in Microsoft Word.
Digital literacy is also crucial for entrepreneurs and business owners in Ethiopia. The rising use of digital platforms like Telegram for selling items and the national shift towards mobile money transfers indicate that the digital age is here for all aspects of life and business.
However, digital literacy extends beyond merely understanding how to use specific tools or applications.
“When I first used a computer, I learned by trial and error, much like many others. However, this approach lacks a holistic view,” said Betelhem Dessie, CEO at iCog Labs, Anyone Can Code during the EdTech Mondays Monthly Radio Show.
Betelhem along with Endashaw Tesfaye, a UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) digital finance expert was a guest on sixth episode of Edtech Monday’s which was aired on April 24, 2023.
Launched by the Mastercard Foundation, and Shega Media & Technology, Edtech Monday’s serves as a platform to facilitate critical conversations on using technology for teaching and learning in Ethiopia, and the sixth episode examined digital literacy in Ethiopia.
“Digital literacy is a fundamental skill in the 21st century that calls for problem-solving capabilities, critical thinking, and analytical traits. While technology might render some jobs obsolete, it will also birth new ones. The present era calls for people who can quickly learn and adapt to such changes. Digital literacy is as foundational in these transitions as language itself,” added Betelhem
How does digital literacy come into play?
Endashaw stated that digital literacy is intimately connected with digital tools like mobiles, computers, and other devices, as well as our relationship with these tools.
“In much of the world, such devices are readily available in households. Children interact with them and develop skills as they grow. These skills are later enhanced when these children go to school, where they learn more about their utility and how they derive value from these tools,” explained Endashaw on Edtech Monday’s which serves as a platform to facilitate critical conversations on using technology for teaching and learning in Ethiopia,
However, in Ethiopia, this practice is primarily observed in urban centers like Addis Ababa, where access to computers in schools is more common. As we move away from the capital, however, access to these tools goes minimal, impacting the digital literacy rate.
“Digital literacy comes with using digital tools. Without access to digital tools, there is no digital literacy,” added Betelhem.
While it’s challenging to find national figures for the state of digital literacy in Ethiopia, experts indicate that it’s relatively low.
“Our literacy rate is below 60 percent. The figure for digital literacy is much lower,” said Endashaw.
According to the 2018 Global Competitiveness Index, Ethiopia ranks 112th out of 138 economies concerning digital skills among the population. Ethiopia lags behind such as Kenya, Ghana, and Rwanda.
Challenges to Digital Literacy in Ethiopia: Infrastructure and Awareness
Betelhem also concurs that one of the main challenges facing Ethiopia in terms of digital literacy is the need for more infrastructure. This lack of access makes it difficult for people to learn how to use digital technologies.
Another challenge is the lack of awareness and education about digital literacy in Ethiopia. Many people do not understand the importance of digital literacy or how it can benefit them.
“Many people possess smartphones but remain unaware of their full capabilities. They lack understanding about the data they create and matters of privacy, security, and how to search for information,” added Betelhem.
To address these challenges, various initiatives have been implemented in Ethiopia by both the government and private institutions. One such initiative is the Digitruck project, implemented by iCog Labs. This mobile technology lab travels to different locations in Ethiopia to provide free coding and robotics sessions to students. The program aims to enhance digital literacy skills and prepare students for careers in technology, focusing mainly on granting access to technology and education to underserved communities in Ethiopia.
According to Betelhem, the Digitruck project is intended to serve as a transformative experience for young adults, providing them with a “light bulb moment” that illuminates the potential of technology. The project aspires to incite enthusiasm and demonstrate that building appropriate infrastructure can significantly enhance digital literacy.
One international initiative worth mentioning is the Digital Capability Coalition (DCC), spearheaded by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Launched in 2020, the DCC aims to help countries build digital capabilities and bridge the digital divide. It envisions uniting governments, private sector entities, and civil society organizations to collaborate on initiatives promoting digital inclusion and skills development.
Endashaw further underscores the role of state-driven initiatives in making devices like smartphones more affordable for the public. He points out strategies such as implementing tax
Alliance and Local Solutions
Collaboration between individuals, organizations, and the government is also crucial to addressing digital literacy challenges in Ethiopia. Endashaw believes that while it might not be possible to resolve all infrastructure issues at once, collective effort can create opportunities for further progress. By fostering initiatives that encourage collaboration, business models can be established to set up infrastructure in areas that currently lack it.
“The government should incentivize individuals and private organizations to be more involved in creating innovative solutions that can tackle these issues,” said the digital financial expert.
Endashaw also argues that the development of locally produced digital solutions can potentially address the shortage of digital tools in Ethiopia. Additionally, these solutions can help overcome language barriers and improve accessibility for all users.
Through the Digital Ethiopia Strategy 2025, the Ethiopian government has acknowledged the importance of ensuring basic digital literacy for its citizens. It has also taken steps to equip the workforce, especially the young people, with advanced skills to prepare for future jobs.
The Ministry of Innovation and Technology (MInT) has already established a separate directorate, the Technology and Knowledge Expansion and Management Directorate, tasked with introducing digital programs and aiding more Ethiopians to become digitally literate by 2025.
As Ethiopia strives to improve digital literacy, both Endashaw and Betelhem emphasized the importance of ensuring that our efforts are inclusive and accessible to all.
“We must avoid creating a digital divide in which one group is left behind while others advance. It’s vital to guarantee that everyone has access to the resources and tools they need to enhance their digital literacy skills,” the panelists concluded.
Featured Photo- Students at Shimelis Habte Secondary School who are building digital literacy skills. Photo Credit- Independent.ie