ANALYSIS

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  • Government has gazetted a new strategy to develop digital skills in South Africa.
  • The plan includes changes to school curricula, and the training of teachers.
  • But it doesn't explicitly address large obstacles, including the high cost of internet access and data.
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

On Wednesday, government gazetted its new National Digital and Future Skills Strategy, which seeks to create “a society of digitally skilled South Africans”.

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) says the new strategy sets out a "structured series of initiatives" which should help South Africa embrace the digital revolution – artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, cloud technologies, virtual and augmented reality, as well as autonomous vehicles and drones.

But it doesn’t specifically address some of the biggest challenges the country is facing in equipping itself for a digital future, particularly the prohibitive cost of internet access.

The high cost is due, in large part, to years of delays in freeing up spectrum. In South Africa, spectrum is limited because television broadcasting is still hogging frequencies. The move from an analogue TV system to digital terrestrial television would help free up spectrum. This was supposed to have happened in 2012. However, government has missed its own deadlines for this “digital migration” year after year.

An auction of high-demand spectrum was supposed to take place at the end of this month, but was recently postponed to the end of March 2021.

The strategy also doesn’t specifically address the high cost of the hardware – mainly imported from other countries – required for skills development.

It does foresee a number of government initiatives to help skills development, including major long-term infrastructure funding programme for schools. But while it mentions private-sector partnerships, it is not clear whether the state will have the money to implement the proposed new projects. Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on state finances, with Moody's now expecting government debt will reach 100% of GDP by 2022.

Here are some of the “strategic action points” contained in the new National Digital and Future Skills Strategy.

Computing and coding in all schools

The Department of Basic Education has to revise school curricula to incorporate computing, coding and digital skills like 3D printing, algorithms design and use, artificial intelligence applications, big data analytics, cybersecurity, digital content design, drone applications, gamification, mechatronics and robotics, and software engineering.

“Curriculum review and design will require attention to computational thinking and problem solving; data literacy and analytical skills; mobile literacy relevant to the increasingly wider range of mobile, digital devices,” according to the gazetted plan.

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Teacher retraining

All teachers must receive training in a wide range of subjects related to digital learning, including coding. “Given the volume of teachers involved, this could be provided via online platforms and/or mobile platforms.” Tertiary institutions have to change their curricula to incorporate digital literacy and fluency.

Schools to get internet infrastructure

A major long-term infrastructure funding programme for schools is proposed, including mobile and other wireless network infrastructure. “While government may provide tablets and other devices, learners can also use their own devices,” the department proposes. Treasury needs to encourage companies to get involved in infrastructure funding partnerships, it says.

MOOCs

So-called massive, open, online courses (MOOCs) - free, online programmes with unlimited participation - will be a focus area, and the department wants courses to be shared across tertiary institutions. Certificates must be provided by either by a relevant tertiary institution or SETA, blockchain-based ‘digital badging’ is proposed, as well as financial incentives offered to learners who complete the programmes.

SETAs must include digital skills

All 21 sector education and training authorities (SETAs) must incorporate digital skills planning in their sector skills plans.

State skill audit

Government has to perform a digital skills audit every three years, and “has to take the necessary actions required to progressively include digital skills and competencies within pay progression policies”.

Digital skills training in UIF programme

The Labour Activation Programme of the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), which is intended to reskill beneficiaries who have lost jobs, must incorporate a digital skills component. Currently in operation in KwaZulu-Natal, this initiative must be extended nationwide, in consultation with business and organised labour, says the department.

(Compiled by Helena Wasserman)

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