Technology is constantly evolving resulting in the continuous digitisation of our businesses and lives. By 2020, there will be over 26 billion Internet-connected devices and over 4 billion global Internet users, but as technology evolves, the digital divide between those who have access to technology and those that don’t, is becoming even wider. If South Africa doesn’t address our access to technology and our digital literacy skills across society, our inequality will persist.
To understand how South Africa compares to other countries in ICT infrastructure and skills, we looked at the World Economic Forum’s The Global Information Technology Report. This survey assesses the state of networked readiness of 139 economies and in the 2016 report, South Africa ranks 65th which is an improvement from 75th in 2015, but down from 37th when the report was first launched in 2007.
Looking at the statistics closer, the factors contributing to the increase from 2015 is driven by improvements in infrastructure and affordability, as well as our business usage (32nd). More concerning is the factors that are letting us down, which include our skills (ranked 95th) and government usage of technology (ranked 105th). As The Global Information Technology Report says ‘it would be a pity if [the issues] were to offset investments in infrastructure that have significantly increased Internet bandwidth and put the country among the top 20 globally on this particular indicator. Furthermore, mobile tariffs have more than halved and broadband tariffs dropped slightly, reducing barriers to adoption also in terms of affordability. In order for impact to start materializing, significantly more buy-in from government will be needed across all areas of vision, promotion, and efficient use.’
We take a look at a few Enterprise Development Programmes impacting on tech skills development:
Vodacom, through the Vodacom Foundation, is investing more than R600 million into a wide range of projects including:
- Vodacom e-school is an online learning platform with free Internet access to basic education content for all Grade 4 – 12 learners. With over 150 000 learners, it provides daily Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS aligned) notes, videos and assignments.
- The Mobile Education programme provides Internet connectivity, ICT equipment, content and teacher training through 81 ICT centres across the country.
- School Connectivity aims at providing Internet connectivity to schools across the country.
- Vodacom e-Libraries: this is an educational content application, which is freely available on Huawei tablets at the 61 Vodacom ICT resource centres that are situated across the country.
- The Vodacom External Bursary Scheme supports learners by providing bursaries primarily in the science and technology fields.
- Vodacom Millionaires donates up to four computer centres to public schools in South Africa every month.
Telkom has a big commitment to enterprise and supplier development. They invest around R50m annually in the FutureMakers programme, as well as R100m in an investment fund focused on making investments in black owned, technology focused SMEs. Their programme includes supporting tech skills development through their TechSavvy programme training black-owned small businesses in PE and Cape Town, and developing coders in their collaboration with WeThinkCode. Their programme to support start-ups received the 2014 Sunday Times Corporate Social Investment Award for the incubation of start-ups, in collaboration with the Bandwidth Barn. As Ian Russell, Chief Administrative Officer at Telkom says; ‘South Africa has very low levels of technology literacy. To accelerate growth and development, the nation needs a massive increase in skills at an entry level in IT and our FutureMakers programme and projects, are helping bridge that gap’.