IT IS now a well-accepted and documented fact that the biggest user of ICTs is the youth. This category of the worldâ€™s population is known to be the first to embrace new technologies.
The mobile phone has stood out as the most popular of ICT devices used by the youth, thus it is assumed that a significant number of the youth have access to ICTs.
There has been a notable growing level of interest in ICTs exhibited by the youth the world-over and this is seen in increased activity in various areas such as socio media, schools, formal and informal work environments as well as at home.
Since ICTs are now recognised a key economic driver for any economy, it, therefore, goes without saying that the biggest user of ICT services â€“ the youth, be accepted as cardinal agents of change in driving and growing the ICT industry.
It can be said that it is the youth who have introduced notable innovative ICT ideas into the industry globally. Obvious examples are the Facebook and Google which were both inspired by young people.
As we have come to observe, ICTs, are not only at the centre of every business activity but also at the core of social activity in the world at present. The youth being very social beings, therefore, find this new phenomenon of ICTs very attractive.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which is the United Nations agency which oversees the ICT sector globally, has recognised the importance of youth involvement in ICTs and has made resolutions to that effect. For example Resolution 38 of the ITU supports the development of the youth forum within its system which promotes the interests and capabilities of youth in ICT, as a means of linking ITUâ€™s development efforts with the leaders of tomorrow.
According to the ITU, Youth can only leverage the transformative power of ICTs when they have access to ICTs and are equipped with a range of digital skills. ICTs can enhance education, reduce youth unemployment and promote social and economic development. ITU has focused its youth activities on promoting school connectivity, digital literacy skills, and ICT-enabled employment opportunities for youth, including encouraging more young women and girls to prepare for and enter ICT careers.
In Zambia, recognition of the importance of youth participation in ICTs has been demonstrated through the National ICT policy of April 2006 (which is currently undergoing review), which specifically, highlighted the importance of youth being respected as an important segment of society who can add value towards the growth of the ICT industry.
The policy recognises that the successful penetration of ICTs within the existing social and economic structures depends on its people but observes that the youth and women are heavily marginalised in most activities despite constituting a very important segment of society.
It calls for the need to address youths and women as special groups in society that can positively contribute to the growth of ICTs as well as the use of ICTs as empowerment tools in their daily activities.
The policy further emphasises the need to use ICTs as an instrument to mainstream youth and women issues in all activities of the economy and society as well as empower youths and women through opportunities created by the implementation of ICT projects and programmes in the country.
As the government agency responsible for implementing Government policy and regulating the ICT sector, Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) has in the last few years, implemented various projects to expedite access and exposure to ICT services to both male and female youth in the country;
1. Embarked on phase I of the connecting learning institutions project. This project is aims to establish computer laboratories in 148 secondary schools and in 49 colleges countrywide. The institution has also through this project, financed the last mile fibre connection to all the three public universities – University of Zambia in Lusaka, Copperbelt University in Kitwe and Mulungushi University in Kabwe.
2. Established ICT clubs in secondary schools â€“ at least 100 ICT clubs have been established in both single sex and co-education schools in various provinces of the country.
3. Scheduled to commence a girls-in-ICTs ambassador programme – sending out identified role models to speak to girls in high schools about ICTs and encourage them to consider a career in the field
4. Establishment of computer labs in schools at Ndola Lion School for the blind and St Mulumba School (Southern Province) for physically and otherwise challenged children respectively. The two labs are scheduled to be handed over to the respective schools in a monthâ€™s time.
5. Collaborated with UNICEF on child online protection for the youth in Zambia – ZICTA has signed a memorandum of understanding to undertaking various activities concerning digital citizenship and safety on issues of ICTs for the youth, including creating awareness for girls. The first symposium on the youth and ICTs was held in in November 2013 as part of this collaborative effort.
6. Commenced the development of a national strategy on child online protection (COP) â€“ Workshop with COP experts and local stakeholders from non-governmental organisations and agencies dealing with children held in March 2014
7. Contributed to the review of the school curriculum to include ICTs â€“ ZICTA was actively involved in the review programme of the school curriculum and advocated for the inclusion of ICTs therein.
8. Facilitated introduction of Microsoft Partners in Learning programme in Zambia – ZICTA facilitated the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Microsoft and Ministry of Education in order for Zambia to be part of this global initiative aimed at improving teaching and learning experiences through ICT with the aim of helping students realise their greatest potential. Through this collaboration, facilitated for the provision of cost effective Microsoft software to schools in Zambia.
9. Sponsors the national television debate for both boys and girls in Secondary school from all the ten provinces of Zambia – ZICTA has partnered with the ZNBC to produce and air on national television, a national debate focused on the topic of ICTs. This debate has since 2013 extended to secondary schools based in countries in the region, such as Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. This year, the preliminary part of the project has commenced and is schedule to extend to countries in the other parts of the African continent.
10. Commemoration of Girls in ICTs day every fourth Thursday in April by involving girls in the preparations and participation of the actual event. In 2013, in collaboration with Asikana Network, arranged for girls from Kamanga township in Lusaka to be part of the event
11. Introduction of an internship programme for students and university/college graduates at ZICTA.
The above referred to, highlight some of the projects being implemented by the Zambian government through ZICTA in promoting access to ICTs for the youth as is stipulated in the ICT policy and the ICT Act of 2009. The authority is committed to continue working with the youth and the various relevant stakeholders, in promoting the growth of the ICT industry in the country.