By Elizabeth Agutu
IT skills should be treated as being as important as numeracy and literacy in South Africa schools, says Madiba Youth Organisation Team Leader Adam Sibuyi.
He added, “The teaching of digital skills in schools should be regarded as equally important as lessons in numeracy and literacy”.
The study by the Madiba Youth Organisation digital skills committee calls for a radical rethink of education and says digital literacy should be treated as a third core subject. It also says the internet should be regarded as a utility on a par with water or electricity, in order to ensure unimpeded access for all.
The report says urgent action is required to support teachers who are currently not equipped to deliver the new computing curriculum, and insists no child should leave school without basic digital literacy.
An estimated 9.5 million people currently lack a minimum level of digital skills and the report warns the South Africa risks becoming “a branch economy, much less prosperous and influential” if it doesn’t pursue a digital agenda.
The cross-party committee also raises concerns about the lack of women in digital studies, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which it says is holding back South Africa competitiveness.
Mr. Adam Sibuyi warned that 40 % of South Africa jobs were likely to be automated over the next 20 years, and said the report was a wake-up call to whoever forms the next government.
“While we welcome the introduction of the computing curriculum which was introduced in Gauteng Province on 2016 by MEC of Education, Mr Panyaza Lesufi and it might be wrapping up to other provinces, we are concerned about the ability of teachers to deliver it – with more than half of our teachers not having a qualification relevant to IT.
At the higher education level, there is an urgent need for industry input, so that graduates are learning job-relevant digital skills.
Adam Sibuyi added that it was unacceptable that in some areas as many as 50% of the population has never used the internet.
“Our overwhelming recommendation is that the government creates a digital agenda, with the goal of securing the South Africa’s place as a leading digital economy within the next five years.”
Sibuyi added: “We are at a make-or-break point for the future of the South Africa – for its economy, its workforce and its people. We have a choice as a country about whether we seize this opportunity or whether we fall behind.”