By Kathy Gibson, Satnac 2013, Stellenbosch – Connectivity has a massive role to play in education in sub-Saharan Africa. Broadband could have a positive economic impact on the region, and its lack could doom us to miss out on the digital revolution.

Brian O’Connel, vice-chancellor and rector of the University of the Western Cape, today addressed the subject of education and the economy at Satnac 2013 in Stellenbosch today.

He points out that many of mankind’s great intellectual leads have bypassed Africa: antiquity, the renaissance, the industrial revolution and others. To a large extent Africa was separated from the rest of the world by the bulk of the Sahara desert, and so misses the intellectual leaps.

“We now have a chance to leapfrog past this impediment through the digital revolution,” O’Connel says.

“If South Africa is to have a good future, we need to find every possible easy to give us access to knowledge and skills,” he says.

However, our children perform badly compared to other countries, coming in at 141 out of 144 countries measured.

O’Connell asks how we can remedy this quickly in order to meet the challenges of 2030 – by which time the planet will be under incredible stress, and only the nimble will survive.

“Are we developing the competencies to change ourselves rapidly?” he asks. “To deal with social, natural and environmental changes, what vision, leadership, processes, tools and other resources are necessary to take us there. We are in danger of not being part of the new leap forward because of a shortage of broadband.”

People need a new mission for education, he says, and schools need to become a resource for the community. Access to the Internet is vital to making this happen, O’Connel says, to upskill teachers and learners.

“We cannot transcend the past without access to the Internet.”

This involves major cultural changes to digital, mobile, connected, personal, creative and open technologies, he adds.

“South Africa is in desperate danger, but there is a way for us to go, and quickly,” O’Connel says. “There is nothing wrong with our kid’s brains. We have a bad history and we cannot transcend that history with the model we have at the moment. That is why broadband is so important.”