Microsoft is empowering Africa with digital literacy and technological proficiency

Driven to empower every student and every teacher on the planet, Microsoft is taking great strides in Africa by imparting crucial skills related to connectivity

The fourth industrial revolution. Expected to bring about more technologically enabled advancements in the next 10 years than those seen in the previous 250, industry 4.0’s ability to galvanise both social and industrial prosperity is not to be understated.

Yet, while each awe-inspiring step forward will continue to be greater than the last, so too will be the socioeconomic challenges that accompany these monumental progressions.

Take the labour market, for example. A vertical that has already been subject to a number of major disruptions, the continual death and simultaneous birth of new occupations will lead to an ever-greater shift in skills requirements and a rising strain on both education and training.

Indeed, this strain is particularly pronounced in developing regions such as Africa, Microsoft MEA’s Senior Director of Education Harb Bou-Harb being one individual who recognises such a reality.

“A lot of light has been shone on the issues brought about by Africa’s growing digital skills gap,” he states, “and closing it will require a number of elements.

“For governments, it is about acknowledgement. There is plenty of support coming from the World Bank, United Nations and a number of privatised business such as PwC, but it is crucial that governments themselves continue to take similar steps.”

Crucially, in the eyes of Bou-Harb, these steps need to be focused primarily on the development of both soft skills and technological expertise, moving away from traditional education to ensure that today’s students are prepared for tomorrow’s jobs.

Pointing to a report from PwC revealing that more than 90 percent of African CEOs cite skills shortages as the biggest threat to the future of their organisations, he highlights coherent education as a proactive solution to curbing the escalation of major challenges.

“Figures like this are really quite scary when you think about the wider implications that they could have,” the Director affirms.

“Education must be upgraded for learners to thrive. Roughly 50 percent of jobs will be lost to automation, while 30 to 40 percent of future jobs will leverage technology much more readily as an enabler, instead requiring softer skills.”

A global vision

Microsoft is one organisation that has tasked itself with helping to meet the demand for these next-gen skills.

Mandated with a global mission to empower every student on the planet, the firm is striving to raise educational standards with a number of initiatives built upon inclusive ideals.

“For every child that thrives naturally in an educational environment there’s another who struggles,” Bou-Harb states.

“Unfortunately, the education systems and teachers in Africa often aren’t equipped with the necessary resources to be able to deal with such eventualities, and many children are left behind as a result.”

It is this realisation that founded the basis for the building of Microsoft’s Inclusive Classroom initiative.

Harnessing its globally renowned 365 products as crucial educational tools, the company has been working to provide a platform from which students and teachers alike can collaborate, communicate and thrive.

“Here, the benefits of technology have really revealed themselves,” Bou-Harb continues.

“We’ve found our tools have provided an additional resource, both helping to stimulate the learning of students in new ways, as well as providing teachers with a greater opportunity to work with each pupil, particularly those that are learning at slower rates, on a one-to-one basis.”

Expanding an inclusive impact

A relatively new initiative, Microsoft has grand ambitions for Inclusive Classroom in the long term, hoping it will act as the driving force of its global mission.

“We’re made significant progress, but we’re only really just getting started,” the Director affirms.

This ambition will not just be limited to individual classrooms, however.

The company has begun to work more closely with governments and Ministers of Education in the aim of promoting the reformation of schooling on a broader scale across a multitude of countries.

To this end, it signed a memorandum of understanding with the Zimbabwean Minister of Primary and Secondary Education during the 2018 edition of Innovation Africa, Bou-Harb himself having been a panellist at the conference, and a similar agreement with the Botswanan government geared towards promoting the role of the modern classroom.

Right now, such developments remain in their relative infancy. But the Director is hopeful that their impact will be seen far and wide in years to come.

He concludes, buoyantly: “I tend to relate to back to a forecast from the World Economic Forum; that digital work is expected to contribute an additional $2.7 trillion to the global economy by 2025. For Africa to be a part of this, and truly take its place in the 21st century, the core ingredients it needs to source stem from enhanced schooling.

“In doing so, the continent will see connectivity, digital literacy and technological proficiency come to propel sustainable economic development and allow the region to capitalise on its true potential.

“In this sense, education is without a doubt more important today than it has ever been before.”