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Opinion: Technology: A catalyst for social and economic development

2021-07-23  Staff Reporter

Opinion: Technology: A catalyst for social and economic development

Since the beginning of the dot-com era, technology has emerged as a dominant force in driving economic growth and wealth in developed economies. Forbes magazine’s annual list of the highest-earning companies in the world in recent times has been consistently reported to be tech companies. It would seem ridiculous to ask if you have ever heard of Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, WhatsApp and Apple, companies that have become synonymous with the term ‘billionaires’. With more and more technology firms emerging and the founders becoming younger and younger, it would only be obvious to us as Africans, in general, and Namibians, in particular, to start looking into the potential that a technology-based economy can present.

As founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab so elegantly puts it in his 2016 writings: “We stand on the brink of a technology revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another. In its scale, scope and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity – from the public and the private sectors to academia and civil society”. 

I could not agree more with Schwab because the technology revolution is an eventuality we can no longer continue to ignore – and it is clear that government alone cannot embark on integrating society into this new technology realm.

In the Namibian context, the term integrated approach simply means the political willingness from government through policy shifts in a deliberate effort to move the country towards embracing technological advances and to aggressively implement those advances into society, so that it becomes a way of life. Commercial Banks have been a very good example in doing just that. The integrated approach I am alluding to includes institutions such as the ministry of education and the ministry of information and technology, with support from private sector players and most importantly the general population. 

If we are to truly embrace this new technological world, the education ministry will have to bear the responsibility and assume the role of mothering it. For a technological revolution to anchor and take shape in Namibia, it needs to be introduced at the grassroots level. A comprehensive and highly responsive technology-based curriculum will have to be developed from primary school – all the way towards high school to cultivate a firm foundation for our future tech citizens. The introduction of information technology curriculum into schools will have to be implemented on project management principles and guidelines. As a nation, we have a tendency to introduce projects, only to realise we do not know where the legs are from the head and where the nose is from the eyes; simply put, we are good at coming up with ideas and initiatives but it is the implementation and management of those ideas that is a big challenge to our comrades.

A case in point is the eagerly anticipated Vision 2030 project. Project management principles are designed in such a way that it gives us a clear departure point, measurable in its different stages of implementation with a pre-determined project ending point upon which we should be able to monitor, measure and interrogate the progress, challenges and successes accurately. It must become compulsory for all learners to be part of information technology education in all grades.

We also need the ministry of information and technology to come up with innovative initiatives to pro-actively steer the country into identifying and incorporating new technological trends. It is quite worrying because an alarmingly large number of civil servants are still using their private email addresses to conduct official business, which is unethical; confidential information could fall into the wrong hands. 

The creation of the government portal was a step in the right direction, but the ministry needs to do more by encouraging the regional councils and local authorities to invest in institutional websites that will enable and improve access to information by citizens. The majority of local authorities still predominantly use the notice board as a means of disseminating information which, if not combined with digital mediums, deprives a large section of the community of accessing vital information. 

Cities like Swakopmund and Windhoek have taken a more pro-active approach to embrace technology, particularly the social media platforms, where the City of Swakopmund has a very active and interactive Facebook page, while the City of Windhoek took it a step further by live-streaming its monthly council meetings through its social media platforms. The response from the general public was overwhelmingly positive.

The private sector, especially the digital players like MTC, TN Mobile and the new but not so new kid, MTN, can champion the digital role out by making it easy and affordable for the citizenry to have access to their products and services. In business terms, once a large majority of the population has access to your products and services, the financial spinoffs that can be derived from that for the companies, the board and the shareholders could be immensely satisfying.

Finally, to the general population, let it be clear that the fourth industrial revolution did not arrive in 2021; we find ourselves firmly in it. To use the term building a plane while we are flying means, simply put, we are now compelled to adapt to technological advances as they come, so it would be wise of us to be receptive to these new technological advances. Education alone is no longer the only equaliser but technology, combined with education, is the ultimate equaliser.

2021-07-23  Staff Reporter

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