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The Need for Digital Literacy in Sierra Leone

I started using computers in 2001. I had just finished my senior secondary school. My Mother was keen to see all of us her children got basic computer training. She had heard a lot from my Father’s friend, a Sierra Leonean who had spent decades in Germany and who is also an IT guru and had worked for Bosche in Germany but had returned to Sierra Leone to help set up a sustainable IT system for the government. He was always in our house and would always talk about the importance of ICT and how it is changing the west. Mama was greatly impressed with his ideas and was quick to ask me to go to Computech Training Centre to go and find out what the intake process was. I started my course in July and got graduated in December. I had learnt courses from Windows Explorer to Power Point. I could use them all swiftly and at ease. I soon started going to internet cafes and learned how to open emails and using them.

However, I realized on finishing my course that the lack of access to computers was killing my knowledge and slowly my interest in computers. The cost of internet services at internet cafes was so much that I could not afford it. I was just a school leaver and still waiting for my examinations results. The internet was very slow and thirty minutes seems like forever. Your time will finish without you accessing your email account. The intermittent power supply system was also a big issue that pose a significant threat to digital literacy in Sierra Leone. I visited the country last August and I could count the number of days I accessed the internet. Mobile companies charge extremely high for internet service in Sierra Leone and most times customers do not get the service they pay for. This compound by the lack of internet security makes it very difficult for the average Sierra Leonean to access the internet.

Sierra Leone is still emerging from a devastating decade old conflict that witnessed over 50,000 people murdered in cold blood, lots of its infrastructure destroyed and millions displaced. An aftermath of the war is a growing youthful population, there is an estimated 42% of young people below the age of 15 and 52% is women. Most of the population are illiterate and lack the basic skills that could see them play a meaningful role in the country’s fledging economy. Digital literacy is crucial in changing the lives of the bulk of Sierra Leone’s population - most of whom lack this. Protection of privacy while using the internet is a very important factor but most cafes in Sierra Leone do not recognize or respect this. Internet cafes are generally overcrowded-one maybe using the internet while a host of others would be standing behind you and watching your stuffs online; this usually send others away.

The government through its ministry of education, science and technology should introduce digital literacy at the primary and secondary schools levels. At this moment only few private schools have made digital literacy a priority. And the cost of attending these private schools cannot be afforded by the majority. People in informal educational sector such as carpentry, plumbing, hairdressing, cleaning, farming et al must all be given the opportunity to have digital education. The internet is key in enhancing perfection in their careers. Training on modern marketing, branding in a connected world, and how to leverage search, content marketing and social media are highly needed for Sierra Leoneans to communicate, collaborate and sustain their digital environment which at this moment is almost none existent. There is also the need for proper regulatory policies on mobile companies and other internet providers, to ensure that consumers are getting value for money.

Having digital education would be futile if people do not have an internet service that is accessible, affordable, available and secured. The handfuls of people who use the internet in the country do not feel secured online. Monotony leads to specialization; having digital knowledge is not enough if people do not have a place where they can utilize the knowledge gained. There is a need for digital libraries in schools as well as in communities in order to handle the problem holistically.

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