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FEATURE STORYJune 26, 2023

Preparing for Tomorrow: Developing Digital Skills in East African Youth


Grace Mhema demonstrating the online grievance redress platform. Photo: True Vision / World Bank


  • A regional World Bank-financed program is establishing a center of excellence in ICT at the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT).
  • The program is helping DIT forge and strengthen collaborations with industrial players to foster market-driven programs for students.
  • The college is promoting the participation of women in ICT and digital technologies.

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania−It struck Grace Mhema quite early, upon joining the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT), that this leading institution in its field lacked a centralized, digitized platform for students and teachers to register grievances.

“To make a complaint, our only option was essentially via social media and other external online platforms, which would often ruffle feathers,” said Grace, now a graduate of computer engineering from the institute. “The internal option available was not favored by students as it required you to go in person and it was arduous, risky, and very bureaucratic.”

Grace immediately saw an opportunity. She would develop an online grievance redress platform as part of her mandatory innovation assignments. As part of these tasks, students are required to create dummy companies–which they can formally register after they graduate–and propose innovations that are geared towards solving a societal problem.

I created the TechLads company and recruited my classmates and we worked together on a proposal to the institute. Luckily, we were given a go-ahead to further develop our idea.
Grace Mhema
Grace Mhema

With their instructors’ support and guidance, Grace and her friends developed DIT’s very first digital grievance redress system, which would come to be adopted by all 16 Regional Flagship Training Institutes (RFTIs) across Tanzania, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

The institutes are being supported by the East Africa Skills for Transformation and Regional Integration Project (EASTRIP) financed by the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) with $293 million. The project aims to increase the access and improve the quality of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) programs in selected RFTIs and to support regional integration in East Africa.

“The teachers were very supportive throughout the development of our project and guided us,” said Grace. “The on-campus facilities such as the Design Studio, Siemens Lab, and Huawei Lab became our home and we were able to learn a great deal in there about designing embedded systems, developing software, and networking.”.

The team behind DIT’s first digital grievance redress system. Photo: True Vision / World Bank

Fostering industry-college collaborations

Among the key components of EASTRIP is institutionalizing industry linkages that are crucial in facilitating the development of market-driven programs. The laboratory facilities at DIT which Grace and other students utilized, together with the complementary equipment, are a product of such collaboration between colleges and industry. These have been instrumental in equipping the students with the relevant skills in their specific fields of study. Allied colleges under the project, are mandated to establish Industrial Advisory Committees (IAC) made up of industry players and experts who advise the colleges on curricula, faculty industry work programs, student industry visits and internships, and forging industry and institutional collaboration.

“Through our engagement with industries, we have managed to regularly send our students for visits,” said Dr. Joseph Matiku, the project coordinator for EASTRIP at DIT. “After they have had their theoretical and practical classes, we send them on visits so they can connect what they have learned in class with what is happening in the industries.”

With EASTRIP’s support, DIT has also managed to send over 30 of its staff to industries for work programs in addition to exchange programs with other RFTIs.

“We have also collaborated with institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and France’s École Polytechnique Féminine (EPF) School of Engineering. We are now affiliate members of MIT, which is helping DIT establish a micro-master’s program,” Dr Matiku said.

Women in tech

According to the World Bank, an estimated 230 million jobs will require digital skills by 2030. However, women stand at a disadvantage due to existing gaps in digital access and skills. In eastern and southern Africa, for instance, women make up only 30% of tertiary ICT graduates.

“If you look at the trends related to where many women’s jobs are currently based you will see that these are also jobs that are likely to be taken over by ICT,” said Dr. Asinta Manyele, a senior lecturer and gender coordinator at DIT. “In other words, many women will lose jobs, and it is upon us to make them aware of this.”

To attract the participation of more women and girls, DIT, through EASTRIP support, has been conducting roadshows with DIT staff visiting secondary schools across different regions of the country, targeting those with low enrollment rates for girls in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). This initiative is meant to motivate and inspire girls to pursue careers in STEM.  

Explained Dr. Manyele, “We have been able to reach more than 10,000 students and the program itself has female trainers organizing and leading the training sessions. They take with them female-innovated engineering projects to showcase and demonstrate to the students to encourage them.”

As a result of these efforts, female enrollment at DIT rose from 629 (14% of total enrollment) in the 2016/2017 academic year to 1,338 (23% of total enrollment) in 2022/2023 – a 112% increase.

A flagship ICT center

At DIT’s main campus, EASTRIP is supporting the establishment of a $16.25 million Regional Flagship in ICT Centre (RAFIC) which will support the training of a relevant and qualified workforce skilled in ICT to meet labor market needs in East Africa. At the Mwanza DIT campus, the project is also financing a regional flagship in leather processing.

RAFIC will have more than 100 staff, along with labs for cyber security, multi-media, digital fabrication, electronics and instrumentation, communications, blockchain, and software development.  Facilities will include four lecture theatres, two boardrooms, a conference center capable of hosting 400 people, and a library providing access to computers and Wi-Fi that will be able to carry more than 200 students. A 500-person capacity hostel will accommodate both local and international students, including those with special needs.

“We also plan to provide dedicated innovation and incubation spaces for students, which will enable them to turn their best ideas into successful spinoff companies,” said Dr. Matiku.


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