A Collaborative Initiative To Close The Digital Divide In Africa
By Raine St. Claire
What are the barriers to education in South Africa?
The digital divide remains a persistent concern in contemporary society, particularly in education and more so in rural communities where its impact is pronounced. Around 90% of schools in the United States are equipped with a minimum of one computer for every five students, while an impressive 98% of classrooms across America currently have internet connectivity. A renowned think-tank in the United States, Pew Research, has discovered that 92% of teachers believe that the internet has a significant impact on their teaching abilities, primarily due to enhanced access to content, resources, and materials.
In contrast, the situation in South Africa is quite different. According to a report by NEIMS in April 2021, only 0.55% of public schools in the country have access to the internet, and 58% of public schools lack computers altogether. It comes as no surprise that the key factors identified as obstacles to learner achievement in crucial subjects in South Africa include teachers’ lack of confidence, inadequate teaching skills, and limited access to high-quality educational resources.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation, in partnership with the Vodacom Group, Vodafone, and Safaricom, has recently released a research paper titled “Transforming Education in Sub-Saharan Africa through Digital Technologies.” The main objective of this collaborative initiative is to improve educational systems throughout the African continent, unleash the latent potential of Africa’s youth, and establish fresh learning prospects, even in geographically isolated regions and rural communities, by fostering seamless connectivity between educators and students.
The parties engaged in this project also endeavour to illustrate how the harmonious amalgamation of digital technologies, connectivity, suitable regulatory frameworks, and backing from governments and industry participants can proficiently tackle the prevailing obstacles to education across the continent. Professor Verne Harris, the Acting CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, emphasised the crucial role of quality education in breaking the cycles of intergenerational poverty and inequality. He highlighted Nelson Mandela’s unwavering conviction regarding the transformative potential of education in promoting fairness, justice, and collective dignity within society.
Shameel Joosub, the Chief Executive Officer of Vodacom Group, underscored the major influence of granting entry to high-quality educational resources, facilitating remote learning, and enhancing the comprehensive educational journey for educators and students in marginalised African communities. Joosub further stressed the necessity of collective efforts to equip youth with the essential tools to make meaningful contributions to their communities and actively participate in the digital economy.
Obstacles and Support Strategies
Insufficient infra-structure, a lack of trained ICT personnel, prohibitive cost, and theft emerged as the key challenges hampering integration of ICT into rural schools in South Africa.
Professor Jonathan Jansen, Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Stellenbosch, one of the co-authors of the research paper, acknowledged the enduring obstacles, encompassing unreliable power supply, limited technical assistance, language barriers, political instability, and restrictive societal norms.
Nonetheless, Jansen asserted that by implementing appropriate policies, establishing robust infrastructure, and making strategic investments, the digitisation process can generate fresh prospects for Africa’s young generation, empowering them to forge a fairer and more sustainable future. Jansen underscored the importance of forging strategic partnerships, implementing targeted interventions, and creating supportive ecosystems to overcome these challenges. Crucially, addressing these hurdles necessitates unwavering political commitment and government support to ensure that the implemented measures effectively address the specific needs of African students and educators.
The consequences of persistent limited opportunities and difficulties in obtaining educational resources are extensive and wide-ranging. The time for debate and discussion is over. With each passing year without attaining e-readiness in our schools, our learners lag further behind. Bridging the technology gap, particularly in remote areas, is critical.