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Sunday, December 5, 2021

South Africa needs tech classrooms

We have got to get technology into South Africa’s schools – now. This is according to head of education for the socio-economic development and responsible partnerships at Anglo American Zaheera Soomar.

Soomar said South Africa must do more to embed information and communication technology (ICT) into the country’s schools and curriculums.

She said young people who do not have digital skills and who cannot access the internet will not be equipped to participate in the digital economy. 

“The internet improves the quality of education in many ways. It opens doors to a wealth of information, knowledge and educational resources, increasing opportunities for different approaches to learning in, and beyond, the classroom.

“Learners who are comfortable using everyday technology and devices to access content and to self-learn are far better positioned to build a life outside of school,” said Soomar.

She added that this is critical for any form of economic participation post-secondary school.

READ: 2021 Basic Education Lekgotla: Ramaphosa Calls On DBE To Prioritize Technology Skills Needed For The 4IR

According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the number of poor people in the world could be reduced by more than half if all adults completed secondary education.

In South Africa, education has long been identified as a critical lever in the fight against the country’s triple challenges of poverty, inequality, and unemployment.

A significant number of schools in South Africa have limited to no internet connectivity, which is essential for modern education and school administration.

Research shows that the country’s quintile one to three schools – the poorest schools in the country – do not have access to the devices, skills and bandwidth needed to provide any form of ICT education.

Soomar said there are several reasons for this, including the associated costs and the poor return on investment for internet service providers. However, she said this is a challenge we must be overcome.

“We should aim to provide a meaningful future for our youth that goes beyond employability. Simply getting children through matric is not enough.

“In a country where more than 8.5 million young people are unemployed, we have got to give them the skills they need to survive and thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” she said.

Soomar said Anglo American has an education programme whose focus is on partnering with teachers to empower them to advance their own technology skills.

She said during 2020, the programme provided over 600 devices and training to teachers in the host community schools.

Now we want to go further and support learners too, she said.

“Earlier this year, we launched our ICT Education Project, where we are working with a range of partners – including infrastructure providers, content creators, device providers, civil society and the Department of [Basic] Education – to build a model for effective ICT in lower-quintile schools that can be scaled across the country,” she said

She added that through the programme’s ICT project and solution, they are taking a strong partnership approach and working very closely with the DBE on a solution.

Soomar said organisations such as The Impact Catalyst, Altron and Cisco are helping to provide infrastructure and connectivity in local schools.

She said the Digital Council is also supporting with best practices and insights that are guiding the initiative while Harambee is helping think through the setup of micro enterprises and sustainable options for these communities.

She added that Accenture, Google and Microsoft have offered to provide software and content solution elements.  

“We are also exploring various other partnerships around devices, maintenance, data and incentive challenges.

“As part of this initiative, Anglo American has committed to repurposing its technology devices for the ICT Education initiative by refurbishing devices no longer required by our employees,” she said.

She said the approach they use is built on years of experience in delivering technology into South African schools.

“The big learning is that it is not enough to focus on one aspect of ICT. One cannot simply provide a room full of devices and think learning will change,” she said.

Adding that we need all the elements to come together.

“We must take teachers with us on the journey, provide the relevant content, ensure the devices and bandwidth are in place, and even give learners the entrepreneurial skills they need to start creating their own small businesses during or post-secondary school.”

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