The status of digital literacy among young people in Zambia

no picture CarolynK_Zambia
Se registró el día 4 de octubre de 2013
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Recently, a survey covering issues digital citizenship and safety was carried out by UNICEF with 525 pupils across Zambia. As part of the survey, young people had to complete a questionnaire that asked how they use internet and communication tools, what they use them for, how frequently they use them, and whether they have had any negative experiences using them.

While carrying out the survey I took time to interview the pupils on their personal experiences with ICTs, and the risks and opportunities they've encountered. The following are highlights of what I learnt while talking to the young people.


The survey was done in public schools, in five provinces, in both urban and rural areas. I discovered that most pupils from rural areas had very little knowledge on the use of phones, internet and computers .In urban schools most pupils, especially the boys compared to girls, had knowledge on ICTs and knew how to protect themselves online like changing their privacy settings or putting in place passwords to protect themselves.

In both urban and rural areas most pupils had never thought to use the internet to read the news, or research on an assignment for school. The most common activities that pupils do are listening to music, play phone games and if they have internet settings on their phones, the site they tend to visit with the most frequency is Facebook. There were also complaints from the school authorities that the main problem they had with their pupils owning mobile phones and going online was that they would catch some of the pupils, especially boys, visiting porn sites on their mobile phone and that it was quite common with pupils between the ages of 14 and 18.

Most girls especially in rural areas had no interest in using ICTs or learning how to use the internet or social media. The only entertainment they enjoy to do on the phone is listening to music, sending text messages and making calls. “I have a phone but I am not connected to the internet because I have no interest in joining Facebook, but I enjoy listening to music on my phone” was an answer given to me by one of the girls taking part in the survey when I asked why most girls were not on Facebook or other social media.


Coming from a home where my little sister knew how to operate a phone and a computer to make calls, text, play games and research her homework online, and even change a few settings on the phone at the age of 10, being exposed to situations where children at the peak of their teens had no idea on how to use a phone or had no interest in communication tools was quite astounding.

Many of the pupils I spoke to confessed that they had little knowledge on the use of internet communication tools like social media because of their lack of access to the internet and computers. Very few schools own computers and pretty much none of the schools I visited had any record of internet access.

Many of the phone models that have internet access are still very expensive, so a lot of the pupils own phones that do not have internet access. Digital literacy is still trying to find its way in Zambia; and where young people have means they often lack the knowledge on how to use ICTs to their advantage. In some areas like rural public schools they lack both the knowledge and the means to explore the opportunities in using ICTs. The government of Zambia is currently looking into this issue and trying to donate computers to a number of public schools to promote ICT use among young people in Zambia.


It was also interesting to find out that most of the pupils had great interest in learning about the opportunities of using ICTs in their lives. The pupils were willing to embrace the technology advancement and want to move with time when it comes to ICTs. Most of them where interested to learn of the dangers found online and wanted to know how they can protect themselves.

Most pupils who use the internet confessed that they have received scam messages of someone asking them for money online or pretending to want to date them and later bothering them for money. Most of them ignored such messages but a few said they had started communicating with the random stranger until they were asked for money – at which point they would block the person.

A story was told to me by a young girl aged 15 in Chipata about how her elder brother lost K68 million (apx. 13,000 USD) from an online scan – and this is a fairly commonplace occurrence here in Zambia. Both young and elderly people are being affected by this each day. John (not his real name) received a message on Facebook from a girl in Rwanda who claimed that she had inherited a large sum of money from her dead uncle who was in politics. She told John that her uncle was being looked for by the government and she and her family had been in hiding and could not access the money from their country because they would be killed or arrested. She said that all John needed to do was give her his bank account details and she would send him her money which they would split in half.

John decided to do that, and later that same day he realized that his money in his account was gone. When he went to the bank he was told that his bank statement showed that he had withdrawn his money using a visa card early that day – and until this day the money has not been retrieved. The young girl was not able to write her Grade 12 exams this year but will have to postpone her exams to next year because there was no money to pay for her tuition and exam fees in time.


The Digital Citizenship and Safety survey has made me realize how much young people in Zambia lack information concerning both the opportunities and risks involved in using ICTs. There is a lot that needs to be done especially on addressing the issue of online safety, the use of internet and communication tools for productive things; because most of our youths do not understand how bridging the ICT gap can help fix a lot of problems to do with access of information and improving the economy. There is need for girl children especially to be encouraged to involve themselves with ICTs; to want to learn more; and to have the interest to embrace internet and communication tools.

Carolyn Kapili is the Digital Citizenship & Safety Editorial Assistant at UNICEF Zambia

The results of the survey are currently being analysed and will be shared on Voices of Youth in the months to come.

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