Columnists

Don’t waste Covid growth opportunities

IDEA

The advent of Artificial Intelligence is changing the learning landscape. FILE PHOTO | NMG

One evening, my two-year-old nephew quickly jumped out of their car when he saw me and ran towards me extending his fist to greet me. Looking at how enthusiastic he was, I paused to reflect on how the new greeting had become normal. I also wondered: if we went back to handshakes, would children be shocked about what the adults were doing?

And if we think about what is going on during the Covid-19 pandemic, we are seeing how it is slowly changing our social norms. This is in addition to bringing many challenges including losing loved ones, job losses, disrupting education system and escalating mental illness.

Despite the many challenges we are facing, there are positive stories emerging as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. Overall, the pandemic has escalated digitisation of education, enterprises, finance, health and even places of religion. Even though many resisted the change to digitisation, it is gaining ground starting from Mama Mbogas to policy-makers.

In education, for example, after many months of remote learning, students especially graduate classes are getting comfortable with the new pedagogical method. Lecturers are finding better tools to deliver. The new normal has made lecturers to attend digital training that they used to shun before. Mature students now love the convenience of switching from class to their other chores.

Health has effectively been digitalised with many households investing in essential gadgets for measuring the four vital signs doctors want before treatment. These include body temperature, pulse, respiration rate, and blood pressure.

The pandemic has forced people to purchase thermometers, oximeters, sphygmomanometers and even fetal dopplers to effectively supply the doctors with the information they need to admit the patient or prescribe medicines.

Perhaps the greatest benefit from the pandemic is the impact of digitisation on the micro, small and medium enterprises. This profound change has catapulted the sector into new business models that can enable them to compete with established e-commerce companies globally.

It has given a new lease of life to this sector that employs more than 90 percent of the workforce in Africa. In addition, the change has the potential to streamline the supply chain demand and positively impact farmers.

However, despite the positive changes with the pandemic crisis, a significant number of people at the bottom of the pyramid still do not have access to these emerging digital opportunities.

Many of the gadgets listed above can be 3D-printed and manufactured locally to create jobs. The problem is linked to how we complicate everything by going through laborious procurement. The outcome leads to over-pricing of these products that even the National Hospital Insurance Fund can buy and donate to decongest hospitals.

In essence, the digitisation dividend can be translated into rethinking what can be achieved from this forced innovativeness.

In education, enrolment in massive open online courses such as Coursera has increased by more than 600 percent. And it has grown from 1.6 to 10.3 million users in under a year. Indeed, the opportunity to educate every child at a fraction of cost lies between digital and prudent use of human resources.

Covid-19 has simply shoved the world into a new age of AI.

Education is thriving in remote learning. Health is now resilient with e-health. E-commerce has blossomed with startup logistics companies that can deliver anything anywhere in a chaotic addressing system. Thanks to AI in GPS navigation systems.

But despite these positive changes, a majority think that every change is temporal and it is a matter of time before we go back to pre-Covid crisis.

The new normal is controlling every aspect of our life, thanks to the Covid-19 opportunities.