Monrovia — Former Indian Honorary Consul General to Liberia Mr. Upjit Singh Sachdeva has expressed grave concern over the lack of digital skills among vast majority of young Liberians to adequately prepare them to confront challenges and contribute to the economic growth and development of the nation.
According to him, access to digital skills in Liberia is still limited even in this 21st century.
Mr. Sachdeva maintained that many of Liberia's future generations have low digital literacy rates, and the digital divide between rural and urban areas remains significant. As a result, he observed that many young people miss out on the opportunities that digital skills offer.
He made these comments when he delivered the keynote address at a program marking the celebration of the 214th birth anniversary of Liberia's first president, Joseph Jenkins Robert held at the First United Methodist Church in Monrovia on Wednesday, March 15.
He spoke on the theme: "Preparing A Generation Of Innovative And Creative Young Minds; A Panacea To Accelerating Future Growth And Development."
"The Joseph Jenkins Roberts Foundation should not turn a blind eye to this issue. The Foundation must pull all resources internally and externally to address the country's growing digital divide for the future of Liberia."
"The Foundation cannot afford to continue with the old ways of doing things by just giving scholarships without investing in digital education -- since without digital skills, more generations of Liberians would be left behind and unable to participate in the digital world which in turn would limit their opportunities for employment and economic growth."
Mr. Sachdeva maintained that young people would also lack the ability to create new solutions to problems or innovate, hindering the development of their communities if they are not accorded the opportunity to acquire digital skills.
He noted that such investment must be made now as Liberia presently need a generation of Liberians that know computer programming, and data analytics, among others -- more than ever before.
He said the absence of such investment would not only create inequities in access to opportunities, but it will also undermine the potential of the Liberian economy to grow and compete.
"It is crucial that the Joseph Jenkins Roberts Foundation addresses this issue while working with all Liberians including the business community which I am part of to fund the construction of digital labs across the country to bridge this divide between Liberia and its sub-regional neighbors. Let's be clear: the Joseph Jenkins Roberts Foundation cannot and should not fail the future generations of Liberian children."
Mr. Sachdeva emphasized that if an investment is not made in creating digital labs across the country, then the Foundation would not just be providing scholarships, but sending generations of Liberians out into a 21st-century world through the doors of the 20th Century.
He added that if the Joseph Jenkins Roberts Foundation just accepts the way things are, future generations of Liberia would not only be skillfully unacceptable; but economically untenable.
"This is bad for a nation that finds itself already on the back foot in a globalized world. The Foundation administrators need to remember that we now live in a world where the most valuable skill you can sell is digital knowledge."
Liberia is in danger
Mr. Sachdeva said revolutions in technology and communication have created an entire economy of high-tech, high-wage jobs that can be located anywhere.
He added that Liberia is in danger of losing this competition considering that the country has a high rate of digital illiteracy.
He said if the current administrator of the Joseph Jenkins Roberts Foundation truly believes in the future of the country, then they should know that they have a moral responsibility to do better - and pull the necessary stakeholders' support for the creation of a digital lab in each county in Liberia.
He stressed that the benefits of investing in such a project are clear.
" First, it will drive economic growth and development. Digital savvy generations are innovative and creative thinkers who create new products and services, which can create jobs, boost productivity, and contribute to economic growth.
Second, it enables generations of Liberians to address the complex challenges facing the world. Climate change, poverty, and inequality are just some of the challenges that require innovative and creative solutions."
According to him, Liberia needs a generation of people who are not afraid to think outside the box and come up with new and effective ways to tackle these challenges.
Creating a just and equitable society
Mr. Sachdeva observed that investing in digital literacy across the board will help create a more equitable and just society.
"When we empower future generations of Liberians to be innovative and creative, we give them the tools they need to create a better future for themselves and their communities. This, in turn, can help to reduce inequality, increase social mobility, and promote social cohesion."
Mr. Sachdeva indicated that preparing a generation of innovative and creative young minds requires investment in digital education, which in return provides opportunities for creativity and innovation.
By doing so, he added that, the Joseph Jenkin Roberts Foundation would show how much it cares about embracing the opportunities that technology presents and work to bridge the digital divide, so that future generations of Liberians benefit from the advantages of the digital world.
He said in today's globalized world, countries that invest in digital skills are better positioned to compete in the global market.
"They are able to attract foreign investment, create new industries, and develop innovative solutions to the challenges facing their societies. So here today, the task at hand for the current administrators of the Joseph Jenkins Roberts Foundation and the Board of Trustees is to turn the achievements providing scholarship into an enduring framework for human progress -- investment in digital education."
He said though the task is herculean, it is not impossible.
He maintained that the distance between a probable future and a possible future is always shortened by resilience and determination.
"The administrators of the Joseph Jenkins Roberts Foundation and the Board of Trustees can't afford to let go of this opportunity while the rest of the world races ahead. It has to be seized."
Mr. Sachdeva, however, expressed the hope that the next job-creating discoveries can come from Liberia when investment is prioritized in digital education.
"I wish that the Board of Trustees of the Joseph Jenkins Roberts Foundation can kick start the project in Weala Margibi County. I am ready to provide the computers and internet service in that regard."
He observed that jobs that prompted rapid economic growth and developments in Liberia in the past have disappeared, while jobs of the future are driven by technology.
"As a father of Liberian children, I have a duty and obligation to speak the truth where it belongs; so that the next generation after us are given the education needed to survive in the rest of the 21st Century since most jobs that have driven rapid economic developments in the past are disappearing and the jobs of the future are becoming more technology-intensive."
Construct digital labs
Mr. Sachdeva noted that preparing a generation of innovative Liberians to accelerate future growth and development requires the Joseph Jenkins Roberts Foundation to invest in digital education initiatives.
He stated that this can be achievable if the Foundation constructs at least one or two digital labs across the fifteen political subdivisions of the country.
He said this term digital skills refer to the ability to use technology to access, analyze, and communicate information, as well as to solve problems, create new ideas, and collaborate with others.
"These skills are becoming increasingly important in today's economy, where many jobs require a high level of technological proficiency."
Mr. Sachdeva maintained that such investment would enable a future generation of Liberians to become innovative in helping address some of the country's most pressing challenges.
"And as we look to the future, it is clear that digital skills will only become more important; therefore, the Joseph Jenkins Roberts Foundation must embrace this reality and work to ensure that the future generations of Liberians have the digital skills they need to succeed in the 21st Century."
Whether through public-private partnerships, or other initiatives, he added that, the Foundation must take action now to build a future where everyone has the chance to thrive considering that Liberia has one of the youngest populations in the world, with over 60% of the population being under the age of 25.
According to him, this presents the Joseph Jenkins Robert Foundation with a great opportunity to harness the potential of this demography divide.
He recalled that President Roberts was a man of unique purpose -- and for this reason, he left in his Will, properties, and hard cash to fund the establishment of a "PERPETUAL FOUNDATION -- knowing that knowledge is power and should therefore not be possessed by few individuals.
Mr. Sachdeva added that President Roberts also understood, even back in the 1800s before there was such a thing as the "global economy," that the key to Liberia's overall social economic development lies in sound and quality education.
He noted that the former Liberian leader knew that the world would evolve with technological advancements; as such, he made it imperative to fund the education of generations of Liberians until the end of time.
"President Robert knew that the future is not one of strong economies, nor is it one where fragile states can find their footing; but one that moves with ideas to power to change. And ideas come with education... and for him, education is what powers the world and what sets countries apart."
"President Roberts left his WILL to improve the lives of thousands of Liberians, and I believe he never wanted generations of Liberians later, to look back and not be proud of him as the nation's first president. This can be seen in his words: "Knowledge is power by whomever possesses it; it is not enough that there be few individuals of sufficient information to manage public affairs."
Mr. Sachdeva said that is why he left in his WILL thousands of dollars and properties, for investing in the future of the country, and that future is the people.
According to him, President Roberts made this decision knowing that investing in education is critical for the growth and development of Liberians and overall the country.
He used the occasion to challenge authorities of the Joseph Jenkins Roberts Foundation to realign its educational priority to guarantee a strong link between just offering scholarships and the needs of the labor market, by empowering Liberians with superior employability.
Mr. Sachdeva recalled that for more than three decades ago, a simple high school education was sufficient for getting a good job, but in this 21st Century, it is not that easy.
"We live in a technology-driven and technology-aided world and its competence is a must. As an employer, I see a growing disconnect in this regard, which then makes it difficult to have candidates that match the right skill sets."