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All South Africans can help build a sustainable digital infrastructure

COMMENT

Our world has been significantly enhanced by technological advances over the past few years. At this point, it plays an essential role in day-to-day life; always connected, always accessible, increasing productivity and cutting operational costs.

And now, across the world, considering the Covid-19 pandemic and country lockdowns, technology has never been more important to the human race. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the power of technology to share information and facilitate continued learning.

All that’s needed to take part in mobile and e-learning is a smartphone and data, right? Yet with the majority of our youth not having access to these indispensable educational tools, South Africa’s young adults face limited prospects in the future. 

Although South Africa is a leader in the sub-Saharan smartphone market, it has been found that data costs here are more expensive than those found in other African nations. Even with recent price cuts, device and data costs in South Africa remain so high that it presents one of the greatest stumbling blocks for young people trying to access work opportunities.

Deloitte’s Global Mobile Consumer Survey 2018 says that “mobile phones remain the primary means of communication for South Africans and more than half of the population use their smartphones to access the internet”. Specifically, the latest Stats SA General Household Survey reports that the proportion of households in the country that use only mobile devices as a means of communication is 88.2% and internet access via mobile devices accounted for 60.1% of overall telecommunications.

Further to this, the Stats SA Quarterly Labour Force Survey demonstrates just how crucial these online opportunities are. The national youth unemployment rate is 38.2%, with youth aged 15–34 years accounting for 63.4% of the total number of unemployed persons in the country. A shocking 40.1% of South African youth are not in education, employment or training (NEET). This is proof that the country’s youth are the most vulnerable in the labour market. In the long term, mobile and e-learning initiatives can contribute to an additional boost to the economy.

What’s more, given the percentage of South Africans using smartphones to access the internet, putting mobile and online learning constructs in place now will create a sustainable infrastructure for learners to study anytime, anywhere in a post pandemic world.

With the Fourth Industrial Revolution changing the world we live in and the need for an increased uptake of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM)   subjects to meet future information communication technology (ICT) demands, we can put measures in place now to make sure that all South African youth are at least introduced to technology, and beyond that, are fully prepared to work in these sectors. In 2017, Stats SA reported that at 2.7% the ICT sector contributed more to the  economy than the agriculture industry at 2.4%. 

Armed with this information and the certainty about the technological revolution, each department within the youth empowerment agency, Afrika Tikkun Services has been mobilised to ensure that it continues its work without disruption. 

All of the initiatives and programmes undertaken by Afrika Tikkun Services aim to empower the youth, through skills development and information, to become economically active.

That said, only a percentage of the 2 000 learners who require smartphone technology and data in order to complete their courses, have been assisted and the agency has launched a campaign calling on the private and public sectors to contribute toward the supply of devices and data.

We must face the fact that although all South Africans are feeling the strain of lockdown, not all will be affected equally. It is the most vulnerable of our society who are feeling the pinch the hardest, and their young people who suffer the most in accessing the economy. This was a cause for concern before the pandemic hit. It continues to be a concern during lockdown and beyond.

With these initiatives and campaigns in play we hope to be able to decrease the negative impact of the global pandemic, but we cannot do this alone. It is a crisis far beyond one organisation’s reach, and so we are calling on all South Africans to assist in the creation of a sustainable infrastructure that will be a wildly positive force for the future.

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Onyi Nwaneri
Onyi Nwaneri is the chief executive of Afrika Tikkun Services — a recruitment, skills development and placement company designed to assist corporate clients evaluate their transformation mandate and build solutions that align with their social and business requirements

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