Rural communities’ poor access to digital literacy hampers success of online business, communication
By Daniel Adaji
Many communities in Nigeria are digitally excluded
Women and children suffer more from lack of digital devices
Digital devices are expensive
Children should be taught digital literacy in basic classes
Specialized schools necessary for digital innovation
Parents need to encourage their children/ward to be digitally exposed
Communities in Nigeria have continued to lag behind in the race for digital innovation. While more technological advancement is witnessed globally, the pressure on the underserved communities is increasing due to the rise in demand for digital literacy and digital products to carry out many life-changing activities.
In Olamaboro Local Government Area of Kogi State, there is no single digital centre where students or residents could acquire digital skills. What is obtainable is road side and small scale computer shops for typing and printing documents at high rates. Fati Yunusa, a subsistence farmer and resident of Adumu Igah in Olamaboro Local Government, tells the story of how she was unable to transact business during the last cash crunch witnessed in the country and how she found it difficult to purchase a digital device. Even if she was able to get one, poor internet connectivity was a major constraint to maximisation of the technology.
“The cashless period was not easy for me and my grandson. We managed to survive the period. It was difficult for us to buy anything in the village through transfer because I don’t even have a bank account. Even if I had an account, there is no phone or internet service to use it. Moreover, I don’t know how to use the mobile devices apart from the little one in my hand for phone calls. I hear that virtually everything is done online now; school, bank, market etc, and I desire that my grandson would acquire skills to operate some of these devices but you see, there is no place to learn them here,” she said.
The cashless period was not easy for me and my grandson. We managed to survive the period
Fati is not the only one caught in this web of digital inequality. For some people, it is the needlessness of the innovation in the economy. Ikechukwu John, an artisan in Bwari, FCT Abuja, expressed disgust at the increasing reliance on mobile devices among youth as well as tech-minded adults. For him, phones are meant for calls only.
“Wetin dey inside phone no dey finish’ (the content in mobile devices are limitless). I cannot continue using mobile phones except when I have calls to receive or make. I was even surprised to hear that people now buy and sell online using android devices. I was also shocked when a lady came to my neighbourhood to meet a friend she met online. I was surprised that people can now marry online. Nawaoo!,” he said.
John’s worry is poor digital literacy. If someone who resides in an urban area where these innovations are supposed to be well adapted could still be ignorant, one would wonder what happens in rural villages.
It is worrisome that in a fast-growing digital economy, majority of those who should benefit from the technology are losing. The world has witnessed digital revolution in the last decades. This revolution has led to different ways of transacting businesses, communications among team members, social media advertisement, online stores etc.
The use of computers and phones has also become almost compulsory for individuals in order to meet up with the trends. Not only urban, even rural students are also now required to make use of computers or their phones to write examinations or attend interviews for admission purposes.
It is worrisome that in a fast-growing digital economy, majority of those who should benefit from the technology are losing
Technological advancement plays key roles in improving the standard of living of people globally. In the past years, before improvement in techniques and methods of operation in many aspects of human endeavours, drudgeries, time loss and even economic losses were witnessed. “Digital economy” refers to the use of information technology to create or adapt market or consume goods and services.
Some of the technological innovations that have birthed the digital economy include electronic banking, smartphone applications, virtual meeting and education platforms, e-commerce among others.
Digital literacy has to do with the number of people who have access to the internet as well as the knowledge and skill to use smartphones, computers etc., while Internet penetration has to do with the percentage of persons who have access to the Internet and who have the knowledge and skill to use the Internet effectively.
Technological innovation according to sciencedirect.com is the economic function through which new technologies are introduced into production and consumption. It entails recognizing new technological possibilities, organizing the human and financial resources needed to transform them into useful products and processes, and sustaining the requisite activities.
The much applauded development in technology has also led to great inequalities, creating a digital divide in society.
This division is noticeable in women, children in schools and rural dwellers. Many children who should have participated in online examinations could not, either as a result of lack of the devices or access to information or knowledge of how the online space works.
Some causes of these inequalities include Poverty, lack of digital literacy and high cost of digital devices.For instance, 63 % of people living in Nigeria are multidimensional poor. This deprived population may not be able to afford the high cost of electronic devices needed to operate in a digital economy.
Expert opinion and recommendations
To address these issues mentioned above, government across all levels and Non-governmental Organisations should engage in deliberate media literacy campaign to enlighten the people especially the underserved of the need to get digitally compliant through knowledge acquisition. Also, price control on digital devices should be put in place for affordability. It is also necessary that telecommunication companies should improve on their internet services in order to serve the people better.
Also worthy of note is that, the online data security of users should be ensured by the relevant security agencies. Although the government through the National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA has commenced several phases of training on digital skills, there is need to extend this to the remote places where so many peoples are already digitally excluded.
Digital economy has come to stay therefore all hands must be on deck in ensuring no one is left behind in adapting the innovations that come along with it.
A digital expert Power Babaniyi, the Admin Officer of the Directorate of Information Technology and Resource Centre (DITRC) of the Kogi State Polytechnic Lokoja explained that embracing digital reality would continue to be a challenge unless the underlining issues are dealt with.“There are several issues around the adaptation of technological innovations in Nigeria. The issues include but not limited to the level of digital literacy, cost of digital devices, lack of awareness by most parents etc,” he said.
To address these issues and ensure a wider reach, Babaniyi said: “Schools need to incorporate digital literacy in their curriculum. What makes the western world different from us is that at a very young age, they start teaching their children programming but all we do here is typing on the computing. So, I will suggest that schools should start incorporating digital literacy into school curriculum and teach the students from very tender age. It is different from just the definition of a computer. That is why we took it upon ourselves to teach the youths. We used to have coding session for kids where we taught them how to code. I am currently taking a 15-year old boy now on software development. When these students are taught from younger ages, it becomes very easy for them to operate in the digital space,” he said.
Sensitization programmes for parents
The ICT expert suggested that there was a need to enlighten parents on the importance of digital technology.
“Many parents are not well informed about the new world of digital economy. I remember when I graduated from school as a computer scientist; my dad would always chide me for always being on my laptop. I told him that is what it took to be a software engineer. But even in the use of digital devices, many parents don’t give their children opportunities to learn. I would recommend that parents try and buy at least a laptop for their children so they could start learning from youth,” he added.
Need for specialized digital schools
He also expressed the need for specialized digital schools.“Instead of going to the university and studying old coding languages, there is need for specialized degree awarding institutions in the country that can teach digital skills to people. There are arrays of courses online but those who may not be able to afford them could gain skills at the designated institutions,” he said.