A new initiative by the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) and Microsoft offers people living in underserved communities across South Africa access to technology and skills that will increase their employability.
In terms of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in Midrand this week, the organisations will work together to provide "appropriate information technology" to underserved communities.
This includes the establishment of new community access centres (previously known as 'telecentres') throughout South Africa. It also includes the creation of computer refurbishment centres, which will see residents of local communities trained to recondition computers and provide them to the community at low cost.
The partnership will also train computer literacy trainers and assist the community access centres to become accredited computer literacy training providers.
Acting USAASA chief executive Phineas Moleele says an important element of the community access centres would be to allow people to access the latest computer technologies and receive higher levels of professional ICT training, making them more employable.
USAASA chairman Cassandra Gabriel adds: "The majority of South Africans do not have the skills to use computers or access the internet. They do not know how these technologies will improve their lives.
"The younger generations understand that they have to be computer literate to be employable, but they cannot afford the training. USAASA's partnership with Microsoft will help to ensure that we use the most modern and effective learning tools to help South Africans learn the 21st century skills, critical for sustainable economic growth."
The agreement will see Microsoft South Africa provide free software – in local languages, where available – to the access centres for three years. It will also make available its IT Academy programme, which offers internationally-accredited qualifications, and give graduates of the programme access to workplace experience through its Student2Business programme.
Microsoft SA's citizenship lead, Vis Naidoo, says the company will also assist in training community access centre managers to deliver the IT Academy curriculum and to manage the centres sustainably. The centres will be rolled out at sites identified by USAASA.
"We see this initiative really helping the people of South Africa to participate in the knowledge economy, and to significantly raising the level of ICT skills among our people," says Naidoo.
"Of course, as the digital divide closes, we have to ensure that the technology is relevant to the community it serves. Technologies and services that work well in the developed world may not always be appropriate for the developing world. We are focused on offering computer access to more people, and ensuring relevance and affordability by offering software and services in local languages."