Seeking social relief through ICT skills

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, in Dakar, Senegal

Aminata Ndao (24) and Mbaye Rama Diagne (25) have finished high school but cannot find a job. Ndao and Diagne, who attended primary and high school in the rural areas of Senegal, are computer illiterate and were told wherever they went looking for a job that they needed to be fully computer literate in order to stand a chance of being employed.

So, they hit the roads of the Senegalese capital Dakar to find an ICT centre to be enrolled for computer studies. They found plenty, but most of them charge fees that they and their impoverished families were unable to pay.

“I never thought that the lack of computer skills could constitute such a huge obstacle in one’s career and life,” Ndao told Biztechafrica.

“Who or what should I blame now? The school systems where I studied? Surely it’s the government that should take a huge part of the blame for not supplying rural schools with IT equipment, and in the process affecting our future,” Diagne said.

Due to the lack of resources, they turned to an internet café in central Dakar in order to start getting part-time computer classes. The cyber centre manager, Ahmed Dia, told Biztechafrica that the best he could do is to teach them in the backyard of his family house, together with other three female students.

“I do that time to time, and it works because the students come back to thank me after getting something out there,” Dia said.

Asked if he had a specific programme, he replied: “No, not at all. I start by teaching introduction to computers, and quickly move to the MS Office package, which I think is the basics of any administration job, and conclude by the internet and email lessons.

“Look, call it what you want – a make-shift or a backyard IT school – but for me it’s not a school it’s just a way of helping the community. I charge very little money, probably the tenth of the fee they would normally pay in a real-time ICT centre,” he said, declining to name the amount.

He continued: “I’m not sure what the difference is between what ICT centres in Dakar charge compared to big cities in other countries, but what I know is that we are a poor country and people are struggling to make ends meet.

“Besides poverty, many families in Senegal have too many children, and it’s difficult for them to take care of all of them.”

For Ndao and Diagne, whose families are too poor to send them to tertiary institutions, the road to education is closed at the high school level, and the only alternative they have now is to seek social relief through ICT skills.

Ndao said: “I have waited for the past three years for my family to send me to university or college but nothing has materialised. Time’s flying and I am getting old, so I don’t want to wait any longer. But I know that if I can become computer literate my life will change.”

For a country like Senegal that has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, Ndao and Diagne’s computer training, if perfectly completed, will go a long way towards improving their lives and alleviating poverty.

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