World Bank shooting for the moon in Africa poverty fight


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The World Bank is betting on digital transformation to rescue Africa from the throes of poverty.

The Bank plans to invest $25 billion (Sh2.5 trillion) that is likely to attract matching funds of a similar amount from the private sector. These resources will go into digital transformation between now and 2030 to fight poverty.

This new project, christened African “digital moonshot”, seeks to re-design development in this age of disruption where everything is changing in line with the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The big question is whether we (Africans) understand how to exploit this enormous act of generosity.

Let me use the impending disruption in education to illustrate perhaps what the World Bank intends to achieve with the investment.

In the past, the Bank has supported such programs as mass education or public education. By and large, mass education has fulfilled its usefulness in providing the necessary knowledge to people to function in society largely through basic literacy, basic arithmetic and a basic understanding of civics for participation in democracy as well as the knowledge that forms the basis of our different professional calling.

A new thinking of leaving no one behind is in the works with advent of emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT). In the next decade, the discourse around education is going to be centred on adaptive learning.
Peter Brusilovsky in his 2003 paper, “Adaptive and Intelligent Web-based Educational Systems” defined adaptive learning as “An educational method which uses computer algorithms to orchestrate the interaction with the learner and deliver customised resources and learning activities to address the unique needs of each learner.”

It is only recently when it became clear that tailor-made learning can be achieved on a large-scale basis.

So many adaptive learning platforms have been developed but content, especially from the African continent, still remains a challenge. This is where some of the investment will go to in order to have an African presence in what will define the future of learning in the days to come.

In content, there is always room for participation, collaboration and discovery from virtually every corner of the world. If Africa does not wake up to this reality, someone will eat our lunch even in such areas as the role language and culture plays in acquisition of knowledge as well as research into our dying languages.

In agriculture, disruption is underway with an increased tempo to disrupt the subsistence farmer and possibly create an agricultural revolution in Africa by transforming the lives of poor farmers who have hitherto been exploited by middlemen.
Technology is playing a key role in streamlining supply chains and creating new market places for rural farmers. New digital enterprises serving the underserved have emerged to solve such problems as logistics for produce from rural to urban centers.
In healthcare, although costly at the moment, technology has made it possible to keep track of patient information and provide personalised healthcare. The advent of big data analytics is helping health professionals to offer quality care and better decisions.

In the not too distance future, diagnosis and treatment will most likely be based on family history, genetics and other environmental factors.

Investments around these emerging interventions will lower the disease burden and possibly improve the lives of those confined to poverty due to disease.

What then do we need to do as a continent to also take advantage of emerging technologies?

In my view, we must not sit and wait to be helped. Our problems are our greatest opportunities. We can leapfrog from being consumers of technology to becoming producers of the same and use it to propel our people from the throes of poverty.

The prerequisite to leapfrogging lies in our own mindset, information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, capacity building and policy.

For a start, Broadband should never be sold as a commodity in Africa. We should, by all means, use other business models to avail broadband to all and sundry. With it, we can personalise education, participate in agricultural value chains, obtain critical health information and even code solutions to our problems.

Among the many fiscal policies governments put in place, there should never be tax on enabling devices. They should be considered as tools of development or tools that will generate the revenues. Taxes to ICTs at this time of transition into the Fourth Industrial Revolution undermine the very basic idea of economic advancement.

As part of capacity building, we must reform all of our curricula and encourage adaptive learning.

Finally, we must leverage the technologies to raise resources locally to build enterprises.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.@bantigito


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