Almost every child comes into contact daily with some form of the digitised world, whether it is watching their parents swipe their credit card for a purchase in the supermarket or even watching them on their cell phones.
Digitisation – the adoption of smart and connected information and communication technologies (ICT) by consumers, businesses, and governments – dominates our world. And because emerging markets in Africa tend to ‘leapfrog’ through technological advances (witness the enormous advances in mobile banking and agricultural apps in East Africa that surpassed anything being done in the developed world), we need to ensure our children are up to speed.
Five years ago this would have meant that learners need to be computer literate, which meant they needed to know how to use a computer. The fast pace of digitisation means that this is no longer sufficient. Learners need to know how computers work. They need to be taught how to write computer code.
South African schools face enormous challenges in this regard. According to a report compiled by educational publishers Via Afrika, the Department of Basic Education admitted that in 2014 less than 6 000 schools out of the country’s 25 870 schools were ICT-ready. That’s less than 24%. In addition, only 32% of all educators had been trained in basic computer skills.
Digitisation in education, while recognised as the best possible channel through which to spread education, remains hampered in South Africa by broadband access. The innovative social platform Mxit was utilised by Nokia to launch MoMath, an accessible mathematics teaching programme that
includes educational publishers and the Department of Education. And in Rwanda, the education department partnered with mobile phone manufacturer Ericsson to launch ‘Connect to Learn’ to provide content-rich media to remote schools.
Enrolment in schools has increased across sub-Saharan Africa. According to the African Economic Outlook (AEO), 59% of 20-24 year olds (137 million youths) will have secondary education in 2030, compared to 42% today. This is the good news. The bad news is that educational curricula are not equipping them for the world of work. This skills mismatch, said the AEO, is the biggest challenge that the youth face in the labour market: more than 54% of those surveyed across 36 African nations said that the ‘mismatch of skills between what job seekers have to offer and what employers require to be a major obstacle’.
Far too much focus has been placed on simply improving access to the internet. Digitisation means more than this. According to a report by research company Strategy& entitled Maximising the Impact of Digitisation, ‘digitisation multiplies the benefits of connectivity, as it generates three times more economic benefit than broadband alone’.
The report points out that in 2011 ‘digitisation provided a US$193-billion boost to world economic output and created six-million jobs globally’.
If we wish to create jobs and become competitive, we need to prepare our learners better for the digital world in which they find themselves.