Are Africa’s Education Programmes Responding to the Opportunities of the Digital Evolution Index?

The 2015 Digital Evolution Index (DEI) reveals that South Africa’s digital economy is “the most developed in Africa, and one of the fastest growing in the world” owing to significant improvements in conditions for Internet access and exponential growth in the smartphone market.

However, most South Africans remain consumers of the digital economy, rather than participants, and African education systems are not able to respond to the opportunities of the digital economy by equipping more young people with the skills needed to participate in an era of near universal connectivity.

Learners remain trapped between under-resourced schools and a 2030 National Development Plan that emphasises the need for 21st Century skills relevant to the burgeoning African digital marketplace. Nowhere is the urgency of this impasse more apparent than in South Africa’s rural communities where students lack basic opportunities to become proficient in the main languages of access: English and digital.

According to the latest national statistics, only four in ten schools have a computer facility (there is no official rural statistic), three in ten have a library and only two in ten have a laboratory. Further, there is a severe teacher content knowledge shortage in the STEM subject areas: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

School leavers are emerging from school having never double-clicked a mouse, typed a CV, conversed in English with a tertiary education admissions officer, or filled in one of the digital economy’s ubiquitous online application forms. Rural youths do not have the “hard skills” and they certainly do not have the “soft skills”.

The promising growth of South Africa’s digital economy should not lead to a deepening of the so-called “digital divide.” Rather, it should lead to urgent public-private partnerships that: (1) Support the challenges faced by state education, using technology to improve access to quality basic and digital literacies in the classroom; and (2) Equip the South African youth with skills and proficiencies not only to become e-consumers in a global world, but also to find employment or create self-employment in the digital marketplace.

Since 2006, our nonprofit organisation, Good Work Foundation (GWF), has had a vision to pioneer a learning model for rural Africa that can build affordable and targeted education support structures and transform rural communities in poor, vulnerable places. In pursuit of that goal, we have developed the Bridging Academy curriculum, a recognised yearlong course that enables school leavers to become proficient in both hard skills and soft skills, that are required in a 21st Century workspace.

The first half of the Bridging Academy year equips learners with improved digital and English proficiency, using an internationally recognized and measured Microsoft end-user certificate. Building off the competencies created in part one of the programme, in part two each learner has access to a career-assessment tool that informs an online study module choice. Available modules are chosen to complement the employability skills requirements of a particular area. The significance of the two-part curriculum is important: learners experience free, online and open learning only when they have galvanised their digital and English capabilities.

In 2016 we partnered with Barclays Africa to incorporate the ReadytoWork programme into the Bridging Academy. ReadytoWork is an online portal that delivers rural students with work skills, people skills, money skills and entrepreneurial skills so that they are better equipped to find employment or create self-employment. We now have 250 adults working through ReadytoWork and, like I said to a reporter from the WITS VUVUZELA earlier in the year: “We can give our students IT and English skills, but it doesn’t help if they have no confidence in interacting with the world and its work opportunities. ReadytoWork very quickly delivers comprehensible soft skills in one online and engaging programme. This is especially valuable in a rural context where young people have limited exposure to workplace communication etiquette.”

As youth unemployment in rural areas continues to climb we must wake up to the fact that we can use education technology to address STEM learning challenges in rural South Africa, and in so doing, look with less fear toward 2030.

Through an innovative use of digital learning tools and content, in 2016 our Bridging Academy, in partnership with Barclays, costs less than R8000 per student for a full year’s tuition, positioning it as one of the highest value programmes in sub-Saharan Africa.

About Good Work Foundation

Good Work Foundation (GWF) launches digital learning campuses in rural African communities. Digital learning campuses are single points of entry to information and learning that maximise education access for underprivileged communities. The prototype, established in 2012 and supported by Barclays Africa, is Hazyview Digital Learning Campus. Since opening, more than 750 adults have graduated with internationally recognised qualifications in IT literacy and eight primary schools send a combined 2900 learners to the campus for digital, English and mathematics literacy. Based on the success of the Hazyview Digital Learning Campus, in March 2016 GWF launched a new digital learning campus in one of South Africa’s most remote villages. The Justicia Digital Learning Campus, on the border of the Kruger National Park, will serve a community of 7000 adults and children.

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The Bridging Academy students in their ICDL class where they are being showed the way around a computer and how to use a computer. They being helped by the amazing ICDL team that consists of nine people.

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The Bridging Academy students walk into a room filled with endless possibilities and they are putting on a smile. It is amazing how much greatness one can do if they put their heart into something.

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A group Bridging Academy students who very determined to make sure that their futures are bright and they are thankful for the great opportunity they been given.

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Thabi Mokoena sits in front of a computer screen in hopes of getting exceptional work skills through the Ready To Work programme. This programmes aims to give young people the skills to become great in the workplace.

Written by Ryan James

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