Training Young Africans To Be Ahead of the Digital Transformation Wave

Published 6 months ago
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Africa’s youth demographic is exploding while the tech economy booms, bringing clear opportunities for tech training. However, the challenge is to do it effectively and affordably, writes Divesh Sooka, ALX and The ROOM South Africa general manager.

Education is key to success for the millions of young people living in Africa hoping to achieve their dreams. But it is also crucial on a macro-economic level, as an investment in the future of a nation.

Education helps aspirant professionals build careers, allowing them to achieve financial security and support their families and loved ones. It helps achieve personal goals. For national economies, education allows a country to unlock the full potential of its young people, driving employment, entrepreneurship and economic growth. It is acknowledged that education is fundamental to modern human development. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 calls on all countries to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning for all”.

Education for all is an admirable national and global goal. However, there is a gap between making education available to young people, and making it accessible and affordable

At this time of the year, students are well within their studies, and while some may have gained admission to the education institutions of their choice, but one big question remains unanswered: will they be able to secure funding to pay for their studies?

The admirable progress achieved in the wake of the #FeesMustFall campaign has made higher education an achievable prospect for many high-school graduates – but not all.   

According to Universities South Africa, student debt stood at R16.5bn last year, with 120 000 students at risk of not graduating due to unpaid fees. 

This debt threatens the financial survival of universities, as they sometimes take on debt to underwrite the studies of students who cannot afford to pay fees. The main source of the debt is “missing middle” students who cannot afford fees, but do not qualify for National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding.

NSFAS is only able to assist a certain number of learners across the country, and last year, funding for thousands of qualifying students was only confirmed deep into the academic year.

This situation emphasises a significant gap in the range of higher education offerings: for affordable opportunities to gain relevant skills that will lead to careers in the digital fields that will shape the economy of tomorrow.

Competency-based training

One approach to solving this is a growing trend towards outcomes-based education, which proceeds at the speed of the student. It’s a move away from the traditional four-year-degree model of gaining a qualification. 

Also known as competency-based education (CBE), this approach allows students to progress, or complete courses as soon as they demonstrate competency in the required skills.     

Shorter courses

Implicitly acknowledging this demand, established universities are also starting to offer short-course alternatives to the standard three or four-year degree. 

Strikingly, the short-course options tend to be more relevant to practical, new-generation careers that are already part of the emerging digital economy.

Data-science, digital marketing, cyber-security… these kinds of short courses allow students to qualify quickly, and also give graduates an opportunity to supplement their traditional qualifications with an in-demand skill.

Relevant, fully funded, tech courses

To meet this need for access and affordability, our institution – technology training accelerator ALX – in partnership with Mastercard Foundation, has introduced a solution that allows students to take practical, relevant courses fully funded through 2023, with an eye to launching careers in the tech space.

We believe waiving programme fees on several of our courses will accelerate our mission of developing ethical, entrepreneurial leaders, and to help address South Africa’s education-funding challenges. ALX tech programmes require no prior IT experience.

Digital transformation is the next Industrial revolution. Helping to democratise education by providing affordable access to tech skills allows students to be part of this trend.

Africa’s youth opportunity

By the end of the century, 40% of the global population will be African. By 2035 Africa will have the largest and youngest workforce in the world.

This presents a massive youth opportunity for the continent.

At the same time, the world of work is being reshaped by digital transformation. In a 2022 survey of hundreds of global executives, 92% said digital transformation would become more important to the success of their business over the next year.

Africa is therefore faced with a twin opportunity: an exploding youth population, and a global economy that is rapidly becoming more technology based. 

The solution for unlocking Africa’s potential is clearly to find technology training solutions for Africa’s young people.  

With South Africa’s education-funding gap, the best approach – and one we have adopted at ALX – is to bridge this gap by giving students affordable access to those skills and technical capabilities.

At ALX and The Room – our global network of resources, job opportunities, career support and lifelong learning – we have made it our mission in 2023 to train more than 20 000 young South Africans in software engineering and other tech fields for the South African market. 

To help Africa’s burgeoning cohort of young people to seize the opportunities of the digital economy, we need to offer training in the tech fields employers need most. 

Now is the time to invest in developing the digital leaders who will power the future, training and equipping them with the skills to address social needs – and helping them build crucially relevant careers in the process.

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