How do we better prepare our societies to be savvy consumers, successful producers of ICT and our regulators effective enablers of its development was the essential point of deliberation at a symposium organized by ITU on the first week of September 2016 in Nairobi. About 600 policy makers & regulators, business leaders, innovators, academicians, civil society activists, and practitioners from the ICT sector sat for three days and went through 12 thought-provoking sessions.
From these sessions, a look at two extraordinary emerging facts make it starkly clear why ICT capacity building could not be business as usual and thus why new and innovative ways are needed. These facts relate to the shift in brain structure and the job market. It may feel a quirky idea, but a change in the development pattern of the brain of different generations has been observed by some studies. According to these studies, the millennials and their successor generation Z have the right side of their mind more developed. This would have a clear implication on the methods and techniques of education. But that is only one factor. The main change in capacity building approach arises from the very fact that ICT is changing or rather transforming how we work and live, thereby, changing drastically the job market demand pattern. Several speakers indicated the immense shift in the job landscape using detailed statistics. The number of new job-types, jobs that never existed before, is rising sharply. More importantly old types of jobs are being decimated and being replaced by automation and other digital developments. That goes without saying that future jobs will require new knowledge and skills. Probably, that is the single most important reason which makes this symposium on ICT capacity building highly timely.
So, the logical follow up question would be, how is the world coping with this rapid change. Is our education system changing as fast? As the appropriate response to this dynamics, leaving out many important as well as interesting details, the need for universities and all other educational institutions to design new programs and to employ ICT itself in redefining education by such ways as MOOCs were highlighted. Key point – ICT capacity building is being redefined by ICT itself in no different way as any other economic and social function.
The discussion on emerging new conditions was also reflected in the use of interesting new catch phrases such as “digital street” and “permit-less innovation”. The former was a description of a father and a speaker at the thought leaders’ session who came to recognize that kids now also hangout at the internet a lot as much as he did on the physical streets of his neighborhood during his childhood. And the later was a description put by of a regulator who was also a speaker how innovators are surging ahead of his office’s ability to cope with the ensuing changes.
In addition to theoretical discussions, the symposium had also glimpse of the new ways of capacity building practically. It may be unusual for such high level meetings, but one full session was scheduled for pitching of innovators in the area of capacity building or simply speaking education. All the innovators presented products with similar features. They all had products that are meant to address severe geographic challenges and pressing socioeconomic situations. Besides all constituted modern techniques of education such as gamification, self-assessment, mentoring based on analytics, etc. But all this seemed to be accentuated in a ruggedized server and devices kit that seem ready to beat the rough, remote, and recalcitrant conditions of the villages of developing countries. It symbolized a mil-spec standard weapon in the battle against deprivation and illiteracy. Collectively, all represent the best pilots exploring the new innovative ways of capacity building that ITU and the global ICT community might adopt in the future either by acquiring them through the usual centers of excellence or by letting them grow on their own.
As much as it hailed innovators, the symposium also celebrated long serving institutions for their immense contribution in the past few decades in ICT capacity building. What was interesting is that many of the participants at this symposium including some high ranking officials are the Alumina of these institutions.
No session was exclusively dedicated to a projection of the future. Call it a forecast if you like. That would have been an immensely motivating perspective to the whole process. Otherwise, the symposium and the side events like the VIP visit to the tech center of Nairobi and the networking dinner parties at the pleasantly expansive venue were immaculately organized.
As the symposium was high level global meeting, it is natural to expect that the priorities of the participants would be far apart depending on the socioeconomic realities of their respective countries. When it comes to digital literacy of users advanced nations may be thinking in terms of their citizens’ ability to be licensed for a ride on driver-less vehicle or to use virtual reality. Without undermining the possibility for leapfrogging, the main concern of developing countries may be to make sure that their citizens are able to use the full power and features of computers particularly mobile phones. Parallelly, Hardware Manufacturers and software producers in advanced nations’ main need of capacity building may be in frontier talent areas such as AI, VR, etc. While, resilient network engineering and problem-solving applications development may be the main talent demand in developing countries. However, unperturbed by such differences , the participants focused on the overarching need for next generation policies and measures in Global as well as local ICT capacity building. The insight and recommendation of the symposium are well summarized in the Report of the Chairman. The report is available on the official ITU website. More is also available for the serious inquisitor on this official social web sites of the ITU. Let’s hope that the insights inform policy and the policy is followed by actions that would make the next generation of ICT capacity building another round of success.