ICT still holds the promise for Kenyan youth

August 12, 2020

Youth bulge is a reality that most countries contend with globally. It can present positive or negative consequences depending on how it is incorporated in the dynamic and complex web of knowledge and skills development. 

In Kenya, the youth remain the most dominant resource the country has, and will ever have in the foreseeable future. Yet, this is a segment of the country’s population that faces perennial challenges and risks, largely attributed to the state of the economy and gaps in skills. Governments and non-state development stakeholders must devise relevant programs, strategies and policies that directly address challenges and risks faced by the youth with utmost urgency. It is no longer a choice to optimally engage the youth in skills and knowledge development but a necessity for developmental initiatives. Failure to provide appropriate and adequate opportunities for this population segment could have detrimental social, economic, cultural, and political repercussions. 

Evidence shows that every year, Kenya churns about 500,000 to 800,000 youth into the labor force. In its efforts to provide relevant skills, the Kenyan government has made strides on the Information Communication and Technology (ICT) front. In 2017, the Government of Kenya, through the Ministry of ICT, implored the youth to sign up for an online work training on ICT, targeting 10,000 trainees, that was to be offered free of charge by the Ministry of ICT in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation and Kenya Private Sector Alliance. Together with those spearheaded by the private sector, such initiatives have made Kenya a continental ICT and innovative hub, with more ICT innovations now traced to the country, hence the name ‘Silicon Savannah.’ Indeed, this has yielded positive results for Kenyan youth’s digital skills. 

An APHRC study on whole youth development (WYD) revealed that youth in Kenyan TVET institutions were more informed and knowledgeable on digital skills than other skills like functional literacy. The government and the private sector’s extensive investment in ICT has set the stage for the country to become a hub for innovations’ meetups, incubator events, start-up weekends, and accelerators with a view of equipping the Kenyan youth with ICT skills needed in the labor force. Thus, Nairobi has become a hub for US dollar millionaires keen on investing in innovative digital and ICT-related infrastructure aimed at solving salient societal challenges.

The government’s initiative in ICT has also led to notable innovations in education and communication. While some are at trial stages, others are in implementation phases with visible outcomes. Among them, Kenya Education Cloud, a government initiative aimed offering comprehensive basic education virtually; Ubongo, which provides educational materials to early childhood and primary school learners; Eneza Education, a phone-based platform for learners and teachers to access and use learning materials; e-Limu, a mobile-app created to enhance learners’ literacy skills through videos and games. Others are M-Shule, Tunapanda, eKitabu, and Longhorn Publishers’ e-learning platform, among others.

While these innovations are noteworthy, they have a notable shortcoming. They are limited in access geographically and by cost implications, hampering their reach to targeted education stakeholders, primarily teachers and learners. There is an opportunity for the youth to leverage the existing digital infrastructure and systems to build inclusive and affordable digital learning platforms that address these challenges, thus enhancing virtual learning for learners in marginalized settings, particularly during COVID-19. 

 Kenya has surplus youth out of employment, yet with visible ICT opportunities and gaps. To achieve the eighth Sustainable Development Goal, which calls for productive employment and decent work for all, it is not enough to call upon the youth to innovate and contribute solutions to challenges facing various sectors of the economy. We must also task the government with making these opportunities accessible to every Kenyan youth.