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Unleashing the true power of education

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The South African economy is grappling with the woes of skills shortages,
yet the unemployment rate remains very high. A key issue that has been
raised a number of times in the past, is that there is disconnect between
the skills that are being developed and those needed by business. So where
is the middle ground?

According to Mark Oelofse, business development manager at StorTech, the
solution lies in providing access to a learning environment.
"Education is not just about formal institutions – the key question we
should be asking is how do we educate the masses that do not have access to
formalised
schooling."
Oelofse believes that just by having internet access, these individuals are
provided an immediate opportunity for growth. He says that research and
information is power and unleashing this power, will enable South Africa to
grow its knowledge economy.
"In sport we see Cricket SA already searching for the next Makhaya Ntini –
why are we not out there searching for the next Bill Gates or Tokyo
Sexwale?" he asks.
"In most universities there are computer labs, used to train students in
development languages," he says. "Once the one class is finished, there is
an administrator tasked with the job of getting the computers ready for the
next session, whether it requires reinstalling software, deleting specific
programmes, etc."
Oelofse believes that by implementing the right technology, it will not only
allow for much more effective training solutions, but will create a
streamlined approach to learning.
"Thin clients in a learner environment, means that each user has their own
session – literally a blank canvass with access to all the tools that they
need –
saved to the university server."
He cites a case study in the Middle East where thin clients are embedded in
desks, giving each student access to a PC at their desk.
"The same devices are being used multiple times a day, providing a lot more
students the opportunity to learn using technology."
Outside of the formalised education system in the country, Oelofse believes
there is huge potential for providing internet access to the masses.
"By facilitating the correct partnerships and using shipping containers to
host the infrastructure, communities can be provided with thin clients and
internet access – a means of giving them access to much more content than
ever before," he says.
Thin client technology is a robust desktop or mobile unit that is energy
efficient and does not host any software or data, making it easy to operate
and replace.
"We know that cellphones have made tremendous inroads into even the most
remote areas within our country, so why not mirror this with internet usage
by providing the tools to the communities?" he asks.
Oelofse believes strongly that this could be a key differentiator for
companies operating within South Africa.
"There is a lot of competition at the top tier, but what is their
differentiator? It's not about owning the last mile anymore as everyone has
a piece of that pie, so is it price?" asks Oelofse.
He believes the differentiator should be offering technology to the masses –
truly making inroads in facilitating digital inclusion.
"Collaboration between different organisations can go a long way in
providing the end-user with connectivity, a unit to work on, the right
software, hosted somewhere else to ensure security – a true integrated ICT
experience," he says.
Implemented correctly, he believes it will bring a whole new dimension to
learning, allowing teacher and learner to interact in new ways and
broadening their horizons dramatically.
"It would literally catapult them into the world of global connectivity and
collaboration, providing them the opportunity to share information, learn
and become well-rounded participants in our future economy," he concludes.