A mature and responsible relationship between humans and technology will bridge the digital skills divide, guiding people from digital refugees to digital citizens.
This was one of the topics of conversation at a technology gathering in Johannesburg recently. Hosted by Eiffel Corp, leaders in educational technology in Africa, six panel experts discussed the digital skills gap in the workplace.
“The debate was lively and reiterated that technology alone is not a solution for twentieth century problems. People need to take responsibility for their own learning to prove their need in the workplace vs automation and software is already part of almost all jobs,” says Stefan du Plessis, commercial director at Eiffel Corp.
“It’s the employees responsibility to facilitate professional development,” du Plessis says.
Some panel members believed that learners are not prepared for the workforce and the employer then has the responsibility of digital skills training, but often the employer isn’t skilled themselves.
“It’s not technology that’s the problem – it’s the human who is expected to adapt to a social system they don’t know how to navigate and who is then alienated from the work and seen as lacking skill when they are not in fact lacking,” says Dr Felicity Coughlan, director of Independent Institute of Education (IIE) and group academic director for ADvTECH.
“The terms digital immigrant and native are inappropriate, because they locate the understanding only in people and there are young people with skills deprived of technological opportunities and vice versa. It is far more complicated than a generational issue.”
“Change is inevitable, and humans need to adapt to new technology. Knowing how to use technology doesn’t mean people know how to be productive,” adds Dr Eva Sujee, deputy director: research at the South African Qualifications Authority.
Digital radio show host, Arye Kellman, was controversial with his millennial views: “The workplace has to adapt – they have no choice, either reinvent the product life cycle or slowly die. People who are open to learning will survive.”
Du Plessis believes that for technology to result in productivity, implementation is key.
When debating whose responsibility was the skills gap: school, higher education or the employer, there was resounding consensus from the floor that digital literacy should be part of general literacy. The only person responsible is you – not school, HE or HR – but the playing field is not level.
Dr Irene Lubbe, head education consultant at the Department for Education at the University of Pretoria, points out that many educators and employers were themselves not digitally literate.
“Digital literacy is the responsibility of schools, higher education institutions and the workplace. Unfortunately some teachers and employers are not familiar with the wide variety of applications available on the internet and are therefore not digital literate and subsequently cannot guide the learners or students,” says Lubbe.
“Digital literacy should be embedded in the curriculum from a very young age. If we don’t innovate fast enough, the digital divide is going to get wider and wider and people without access will be left behind,” says du Plessis.
Solutions from the floor included:
* Graduate tracking (IIE) – some IT graduates who had skills but were not getting jobs because they were lacking social and soft skills were part of a ‘social skills engineering’ project where they were taught those skills such as agency, networking, presentation skills and selecting available alternatives which students from middle class backgrounds seem already to have. Employment rates increased almost immediately as these skilled students were better able to get work when they presented themselves in a way that was familiar to the employer. Quite often, the skills gap is not embedded in technology, but in social circumstances.
* An NGO researching digital education leadership – how do we equip people in leadership what it means to be a digital organization?
* An NGO that has enabled 12 000 school pupils to complete a MOOC. Their learning was that students need a structure and incentive to learn. With MOOC’s, students drop out at a lowest cost vs a year at university.
There was a strong sense that to develop the workforce with digital skills, management buy-in is essential and obviously IT support, such as call centres open 24/7. But as was pointed out, corporates are going to do what makes the most money.
“There is a new definition of rich and poor, those who have access to the internet vs those that don’t,” says Tim Genders, CEO of Project Isizwe.
“South Africa voted against internet access as a basic human right, but free access to WiFi can address inequality and have a significant impact on amazing people. The internet has to be seen as a basic utility, like water and electricity; mobile is a cup, free internet is the water,” says Genders.