Education has long been a topic of debate on the country’s agenda, with calls for increased funding and improved curriculums being among the many reasons that the sector is constantly brought under the spotlight.
And, as digital technology continues to change and disrupt industries, education is once again a focus in South Africa.
“Digitising our education sector will ensure both learners and educators have better access to information, and that young people enter the world of work equipped with skills that are increasingly in high demand across a range of sectors in South Africa,” says Dietlof Mare, CEO at Vuma.
Private school learners in South Africa are already familiar with tablets and smart devices being used in the classroom, where many schools require each learner to bring their own device to school as a learning tool. Public schools are also set to follow suit, following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent promise to ensure the public education sector is completely digitised within the next six years.
Making digital transformation in education our main priority
This revamp of the South African public education sector will reportedly see every school child being equipped with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device in the not-too-distant future.
In addition, a presidential commission made up of the brightest minds from across South African industries will be appointed to act as an advisory board on digital transformation in SA’s educational sector.
The reason for this push is to encourage young people to venture into new employment avenues and opportunities, and to prepare South Africa at large for the change that the fourth industrial revolution will bring.
“Companies in the private sector can make a huge impact in this space. For instance, Vuma rolls out its Fibre to Schools programme, giving primary and secondary schools access to free uncapped fibre with a one-gigabyte-per second-line. This effectively lays the groundwork to help schools cross over into the digital era,” says Mare.
Over and above simply converting paper-based textbooks to digital format and providing learners with tablets to learn and work on in class, the process of digitising education is about transforming curriculums to ensure learners are developing the types of skills needed to survive in an increasingly digitised world.
This includes the introduction and development of STEM education from a grassroots level, where learners are equipped with cognitive tools and capabilities needed to pursue careers in technical fields of work to solve real-world challenges facing the country and continent.
The push for STEM skills in SA
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education offers an interdisciplinary approach to learning that focuses on educating students in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Graduates from these fields of study are currently in high demand in South Africa, but there is a severe shortage of STEM skills among those who are just entering the world of work. For this reason, it’s in the best interests of government and the private sector to encourage more young people to pursue technical careers.
“Digitised education will open up new worlds of opportunity for South African youth and young graduates, not to mention help solve the challenges that the country’s technical industries currently face,” says Mare. “Businesses in the private sector also have an important role to play in shifting South Africa’s educational landscape to support digital education and STEM skills development, and this can be a win-win for both the private sector and beneficiaries of a new education system.”