Should Africa fear digitalisation and automation?

Written By: Zapriana Date: 03.05.2018 Categories: In the news

With the ever-expanding frontier of technological advancements, millions of Africans are worried about what this means for their job security. Technologies such as AI and automation make many workers anxious that they could be replaced. 

There’s good news and bad news- the bad news is that technology is developing rapidly, and the future will most likely arrive before it can be accurately predicted. The good news is that nine of the world’s 15 fastest-growing economies are in Africa, meaning that the continent houses more opportunities for development than ever before. 

By investing in the future

As seen in the inspirational case of Ghanaian I.C.T teacher Owura Kwadwo, who went the extra mile in teaching his students how to use Microsoft Word despite not having a computer, there is no lack of teachers who want to build up Africa’s youth, and students who want to learn. However, computer literacy needs to be taught in a practical way, and that requires equipment to be prioritised by private as well as public sectors in Africa.

By sharing ideas

According to Peter Cochrane, a British engineer and technologist, Africa can benefit greatly from the creation of a “knowledge economy” in which researchers, experts and companies share instead of conceal information and ideas. This “cross-pollination” of ideas can create a knowledge economy, a network of different pillars of African society working assisting each other and promoting mutual growth.

By seizing the opportunity

The 4th Industrial Revolution, like the 3 which preceded it, is bringing in different needs to be fulfilled. And, of course, wherever there is a need, there is an opportunity. 

Access to the internet in Africa still leaves something to be desired. For example according to Mushroom Networks, only around 11% of South Africans use the internet. However, with more affordable and accessible technologies being developed daily, that number is expected to rise. It’s also worth noting that, with the rise of mobile technologies, more Africans have access to the internet and other digital tools than ever before. 

The opportunity for growth is tremendous, but it involves thinking ahead, and encouraging younger generations to be thought leaders in their field. This is because automation can take over many forms of labour, but fields that involve human creativity to function will be less effected. 

By thinking ahead

Encouraging the next generation of Africans to consider careers which have a higher level of job security is vital. This could be integrated into the syllabus, in subjects such as life orientation and during career planning. There are already many resources online which can assist in determining the level of threat that automation poses to a particular career path, as seen in sites such as WillRobotsTakeMyJob.com

Another key player in thinking ahead is educational institutions, which need to critically evaluate the current syllabus being taught to students, and how it can be made more relevant and helpful to them. Universities such as Monash South Africa have already begun exploring future-focused learning. To prepare future generations for this shift, we would need to focus on future-oriented learning today.

For Africa to carve out a level of job-security in an uncertain world, there will need to be not only monetary investment in technology, but also a cultural shift in what people consider “stable jobs”. Future generations should be encouraged and given tools to pursue careers which are less at risk of becoming fully automated.


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