Coronavirus: Technology now the only way out

Tuesday March 24 2020
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Now is the time to turn to the digital economy for solutions. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

By FAUSTINE NGILA

With most nations under full or partial lockdown to check the spread of Covid-19, it’s time to embrace technology to keep things running.

“Now is the time to turn to the digital economy for solutions that keep life moving during times like this. We are lucky to have started our digital transformation journey earlier,” says Timothy Oriedo, founder of the data firm Predictive Analytics Lab.

Meanwhile, Absa Bank Kenya’s chief data officer, Mr Hartnell Ndungi, says many sectors did not foresee the current situation, so it won’t be passible for all companies to let their employees work from home.

“It’s a challenge to provide every employee with a laptop and unlimited internet, especially for SMEs. The probable solution is to classify tasks as critical and non-critical. The latter can work remotely. Most companies will have to scale down production,” he offers.

While it is hard to tell when the problem will end, especially in Africa, e-learning, telemedicine, videoconferencing, shopping online, live streaming, religious services and using robotics in manufacturing are some of the options available.

“There are very many e-learning platforms available, and for free. I use edtech solutions such as Google Groups, Open edX and Canvas,” says Prof Bitange Ndemo of the University of Nairobi’s School of Business.

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4G Plus network

Such platforms allow students to benefit from instructor-led instruction, thanks to artificial intelligence.

However, Mr Boniface Mutunga, a Master’s student at Kenyatta University, notes that e-learning requires personal discipline and commitment, and that Kenya now needs to adopt virtual reality (VR) gear.

“You need a quiet area to watch live lectures and you must be punctual. Now that we have a 4G Plus network, our universities should start adopting VR gear for online sessions,” he says.

But these solutions are only available for advanced levels of study. “This is happening only in developed countries. In Kenya, we have only a few private primary schools with e-learning programmes. But it will work for universities,” says Mr Ndungi.

Dr Lillain Wanzare, a computer science lecturer at Maseno University, says it will be possible to teach vernacular languages remotely in future.

“Using natural language processing (NLP), it’s just a matter of time before O-level students are taught local languages without a teacher’s physical presence,” she says

The legal sector, which is highly dependent on human interaction, has been hard hit by the directive on social distancing, but Ms Linda Bonyo, the founder of Lawyers Hub, says many processes can be conducted remotely.

The Law Society of Kenya is encouraging members to serve court documents via e-mail using alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.

“Lawyers are now embracing technology tools such as Calendly to schedule client meetings, Zoom for group calls, and Signal as a secure messaging service. To manage our work, we use Patafile and Wakili CMS, which are cloud-based,” Ms Bonyo offers.

E-commerce is perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the social distancing order as people rush to stock up on food and other items.

“E-commerce is witnessing an upsurge. Even people who are not tech-savvy now see the benefit of online commerce, which allows you to buy things and have them delivered to your house,” says Mr Ndungi, adding that the digital revolution is now evident in many areas, including religion, with live streaming of church services.