Picture: Michael Walker
Cape Town - South Africa has ranked poorly in all three digital competitiveness indices recently published by the International Institute for Management Development (IMD). The IMD World Digital Competitiveness 2017 report overall ranked South Africa a lowly 47 out of the 63 countries surveyed in the report.

This was a slight improvement from last year’s ranking, which saw the country come in at number 53 on the list.

Pierre le Roux, the chief executive at Moyo Business Advisory, said the results of the survey were a direct result of an ineffective education system that neglected maths and science.

“The rankings clearly show that we are falling further and further behind in how competitive we are in this most vital field in which we absolutely need to excel if we want to build our economy and create jobs for the millions of unemployed South Africans,” Le Roux said.

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The IMD World Digital Competitiveness ranking analysed and ranked 63 countries’ ability to adopt and explore digital technologies leading to the transformation of government practices, business models and society in general and defines digital competitiveness into three main factors: knowledge, technology and future readiness.

When it came to knowledge, South Africa was ranked 49th this year, the same as in the comparative period, while the country came in at number 53 in technology infrastructure, a drop from the number 51 it occupied last year. However, the country improved its future readiness outlook, jumping to number 42 on the list, from a prior position of 47th.

At the top of the ranking was Singapore, followed by Sweden, the US, Finland and Denmark.

Arturo Bris, a director of the IMD World Competitiveness Center, said countries that occupied the top half of the table had supportive and inclusive government institutions help technological innovation.

“Singapore and Sweden have developed a regulation that takes advantage of the talent they have by adopting, for instance, a regulation that facilitates the inflow of overseas talent which complements the locally available pool. This shows that in digitally competitive countries, the government must facilitate the adoption of new technologies.

“One thing about countries that ranked lowly is that these countries not only have low rankings in terms of talent but they don’t invest in developing whatever talent they have,” Bris said.

In a report launched earlier this year by multinational technology giants, Siemens found that potential $300 billion (R4 trillion) could be added to the African economy by 2026 through the adoption of digitalisation in industrial sectors ranging from transport to manufacturing.

In the firm’s 2017 African Digitalisation Maturity Report - which focused on South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia - South Africa emerged as the country with the highest potential to realise digital maturity followed by Kenya, Nigeria and Ethiopia.

South Africa was also first with regards to information and communication technology infrastructure with 82 points, followed by Nigeria with 49 points, Kenya at 44 points and Ethiopia with 33 points. With regards to skills and digital literacy, South Africa came in first with 53 points, Kenya second with 38 points and Nigeria had a score of 35 points with Ethiopia at 20 points.

Le Roux said there also had to be a rethink about higher education. “We regularly hear the complaint that graduates with degrees or diplomas are sitting at home twiddling their thumbs. When you look closer at these students almost without exception we find that they have degrees or diplomas in the humanities rather than in the hard sciences where there are plenty of jobs,” he said.

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