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If we are truly committed to 4IR - schools must be at the heart of digital transformation

So much is said and discussed about internet connectivity and the digital participation of people in South Africa on a daily basis. Since the adoption by cabinet of the National Development Plan in year 2012, we have since made big progress and a shift in this regard by moving from 41% (World Bank) to a digestible 60% of internet penetration according to the Digital2020 Report.

This is an indication that a lot more people are accessing the Internet today than ever before with the majority using mobile devices. Internet service providers (including local independent ones) have played a significant role in ensuring that a lot more people, particularly youths, can access the Internet a lot more cheaper. This has been made possible by a variety of products and services on offer including price drops but the most popular are platform-specific data bundles. These can maximise access to popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Youtube, and TikTok.

If we are discussing social development and economic inclusiveness, the bigger question however should be: “what are young South Africans utilising the internet for and, is the average South African youth equipped with the knowledge and skills to use their internet connectivity to empower themselves?”

In contrast, If we look at the dynamics in our schooling system, very few schools in South Africa have access to a stable internet connection. According to the NDP executive summary; we should realise our national goals by "...drawing on energies of our people, growing an inclusive economy, building capabilities, enhancing the capacity of the state, and promoting leadership and partnerships throughout society."

The argument is; through a monumental failure and lack of commitment to ensure digital and internet accessibility in our schools, we cannot realise a big chunk of these goals as we continue every year to miss the critical components and building blocks of seeing up the young and preparing them for an abundance of future opportunities.

According to The Niems Report, only 20% of public schools utilise the internet for teaching and learning purposes. This shows that even though there’s a variety of efforts made by the Public and private sector, there has been very little success and urgency in addressing this spine-chilling state of affairs. This also presents us with an even bigger problem: how will we introduce coding and robotics learning in our public schools without computers and internet? I normally go with my team to schools especially in rural areas, we are always forced to teach coding on the chalkboard with learners writing code in their exercise books - what a sad sight!

I believe we need to look at the introduction of shared-computer laboratories (schools within a particular village or township for example) coupled with zero-rated educational websites (for the short term) to dramatically provide relevant digital learning materials and content to aid teachers as well as learners majority of whom come from poor backgrounds. Such an approach would also ensure that learners can be buddy-buddy with computers for learning and therefore conditioning them to the version of digital devices and the internet that is not just for fun and entertainment but for skills development and economic empowerment.

Given the fact that we are living through a fourth industrial revolution which is in progress whether you are in Nongoma or Sandton, we will pay an even bigger socio-economic price within the next decade and beyond due to lack of digital literacy and access to internet connectivity in our schools as it is today - if we see schools as hubs for future preparedness and we are true to the vision of the majority of young South Africans participating in the digital economy, we must radically increase access to internet connectivity in our public schools as in yesterday.


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