Empowering township youths for future skills (4IR)

If South Africa should compete in 4IR, we need to have our people well equipped with future skills.

There has been a huge emphasis on coding for the past few years in South Africa with a national proposal that coding becomes our 13th official language, sign language being the 12th. However, when we compare ourselves to other BRICS countries, we are still punching below our weight when it comes to technology.

Every child should learn how to code and coding is one of the basic enablers allowing access to opportunities within the digital economy.

Helping township youths participate in 4IR

Accessibility to future skills training is often a problem for youth in townships. These critical evaluations point to the following challenges relating to their readiness to 4IR:

  • Current school curriculum does not equip learners with the right skills or education for the 4IR.
  • Very few primary and high school learners have access to computers. Some learners reach Grade 12 without ever interacting with a computer.
  • Access to fast and reliable internet is a national problem, while for those who can access the internet, this is a costly exercise.
  • Coding, an important digital skill for future jobs, is not part of the curriculum.
  • Teachers are not being provided with training and development to the level that they can be able to teach a 4IR geared education to learners.
  • Though it’s a rare occurrence, the burning of schools has been on the rise recently, particularly in support for movements such as the Fees Must Fall movement. This delays school activities to resume as planned by the Department of Education and learners are forced to find other measures to get the education they well deserve.

While resourced schools can better equip their learners for 4IR, township and rural areas are always at a disadvantaged.

COVID-19 and 4IR

The pandemic has exposed the social injustices that already exists in education, the township and rural areas being seriously affected. With school closed during the lockdown, access to education for learners in the rural areas and townships faced newer challenges:

  • Unemployment/Food shortages: Many families in townships lives with a paycheck to sustain themselves for up to 2 weeks with basic essential needs. Investing in a child’s education is, therefore, a critical decision a parent has to make.
  • Learning from home. As previously mentioned, access to online education resources is costly. While some network providers have introduced zero-rated fees to enhance free education, parents aren’t qualified to homeschool their children nor can they afford to own a computing device to access online education.

Opportunities for 4IR

4IR will require schools to properly prepare learners with the right tools to come up with new and innovative solutions to today and tomorrow’s problems facing society. This revolution can lead to greater inequality if the right skills are not taught to every learner. With the right skills, all learners will have a better chance of succeeding whether it be in the job market or as entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship in the 4IR will open up new opportunities that don’t yet exist, the education that learners receive must equip them with the necessary skills to succeed as entrepreneurs. Creativity, problem-solving, critical analysis, independent thinking and analytical skills are some of the skills needed to exploit opportunities presented by the 4IR.

As such, teacher competency and reskilling are necessary. Educators must possess the skills and tools necessary to prepare learners for opportunities in the 4IR. A revised curriculum that includes new topics and subjects such as coding, data analysis, and robotics must be introduced at the school level.

Accelerating efforts

The government as an important stakeholder must accelerate efforts and interventions to address various challenges that are already plaguing our townships and rural areas.

Basic infrastructures such as functional roads, safe schools with drinkable clean water, clean toilets and various health and safety equipments are fundamental for learners to travel school safely and be able to learn in a safe and healthy environment.
Investment in free, healthy food for our kids is mandatory as learners cannot learn hungry and/or malnourished.

Providing learners with a computing device with access to faster, reliable and free internet will be the basis for skilling learners for jobs and businesses of the 4IR. Thus the focus to providing free internet to online resources and lowering the cost of data is not only essential but crucial. This entails approving regulations and policies, which are friendly and embrace the 4IR across the wide spectrum not just in education. It is however clear, given the various competing demands of the government, in the face of shrinking economic growth and the erosion of the state’s revenue base, that the state cannot do this alone.

To succeed in preparing the country’s learners for the world of 4IR it will take an investment partnership between government, private sector and civil society.

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