Inclusive technology education: a catalyst for growth?

Sunday February 3 2019

 

By Augustine Malija

Is Tanzania’s labour force ready for a technology-focused landscape in the future of work? While one can argue that those with a background in STEM subjects are ready, it is worthwhile to evaluate whether these professionals have sufficient capacity to adapt to today’s rapid technological changes and to consider investing in the capacity of non-STEM professionals to become technologically adaptive.

How can our education policy nurture an inclusive environment so as to foster this capability at a macro level? Indeed, how can an inclusive, emerging technology-focused education policy create a technologically literate labour force that is able to adapt to rapidly changing technologies and drive economic prosperity

An economy’s growth and development is driven by three factors: capital, labour and total factor productivity. Savings drive capital, skillsets drive labour, and technology and efficiency inter alia (culture, geographical factors, the rule of law, property rights, human rights etc.), drive total factor productivity.

Of the three factors, total factor productivity contributes to 60 per cent of economic growth annually (Moyo, 2018). After weighing the evidence, it is clear that technology and efficiency play a significant role in delivery of economic growth.

It remains imperative for an economy to possess labour that can iteratively harness emerging technologies thereby fostering greater efficiency and creating more time and resources that can be invested in organisational growth, job creation and be rewarded with increased incomes. Tanzania’s private sector, which is the major contributor to economic growth, draws and leverages technology to increase efficiency.

One example with which I am familiar comes from PricewaterhouseCoopers in Mauritius, where staff have developed a robot that scans and documents information from invoices which reduces the time spent painstakingly going through each invoice manually. Another way the sector attracts technology is through foreign direct investment, which frequently leads to the introduction of novel technologies and knowledge into those countries in which they are investing. The sector leverages efficiency by training its labour on such technological changes and challenges its ingenuity to accomplish tasks in a short time.

The growing private sector is a major contributor to Tanzania’s stable average GDP growth averaging 7 per cent in the past decade a growth driven by economic liberalisation initiatives going back two decades. Given the private sector’s ability to attract and integrate new technologies, it has been able to foster increased efficiency and has also surpassed expectations for growth - it is therefore no surprise that telecommunications has been one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy. However, Tanzania’s labour is inadequately prepared to harness such changes, which creates limitations on private sector growth.

It is possible to see that there might be flaws in Tanzania’s Education and Training Policy in so far as technology is concerned. The policy prioritises science and technology education only to STEM students. It accounts that out of every 100 secondary school students, only 30-35 major in science during their junior secondary school. To promote science and technology education, one of its stipulations aims to strengthen structure and procedures for teaching the subjects. This appears to deliver a nascent technology education since it does not give room for emerging technologies. Moreover, serving only STEM students leaves out the many non-STEM students who can harness emerging technologies, if given an opportunity. It remains imperative that new education policy should offer an inclusive opportunity for students to learn about emerging technologies.

Tanzania’s economic direction is quite interesting in this case. The economy wants to be semi-industrialised by 2025. Emergence of industries in a variety of sectors means wider introduction and spread of technology since industries rely on technology to operate competitively.

While investment in building industrial premises and equipment will remain key to industrial and economic transformation, investment in respective labour is equally significant. This labour needs to be adaptive to technological changes.

We are witnessing the rise of job roles such as Big Data Analyst, Data Scientist, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Specialists, Software and Applications Developers, New Technology Specialists and Information Technology Services Experts. With other non-technology roles, it is projected that 133 million of these roles are going to be dominant by 2022.

At the same time, 75 million mundane roles (Data Entry Clerks, Accounting, Bookkeeping and Payroll Clerks, Administrative and Executive Secretaries, Assembly and Factory Workers, Client Information and Customer Services Workers, Business Services and Administration Managers, Material Recording and Stock Keeping Clerks and Postal Service Clerks) will be declining.

It is important for our technology education to be inclusive if our aspirations for economic growth and resultant employment are to be realised.

Mr Malija is an associate at PwC - Assurance Line of Service. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of PwC.