A grade 12 pupil uses a tablet as part of a formal lesson. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)
As a nation we must all agree that basic education is indeed at the heart of building a South African nation for a better and prosperous future.

International Literacy Day, celebrated on September 8 and themed “Literacy in a digital world: Taking measures to leverage the economic potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, gives us the opportunity to reflect on what is being done to promote literacy, especially as it relates to opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

It will continue to be just a slogan if we don’t improve the basic education system’s quality and efficiency. We must ensure more learners reach basic levels of literacy and numeracy in the foundation phase. This is an overriding determinant of how successful they will be in Grade 12 and largely determines whether they will cope with schooling or risk dropping out.

The Department of Basic Education is making early-grade learning its top priority.

We stand on the brink of a disruptive technological revolution. In its scale, scope and complexity we do not yet know how this will unfold, but the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders.

Advanced technologies, such as automation, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and autonomous vehicles, will demand creativity, adaptability and critical thinking.

The advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has led to the expansion of the definition of “literacy” beyond just reading and writing. Educational institutions are expected to meet learners’ needs through the integration of 21st-century skills - the five Cs: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity and computational thinking, underpinned by technological developments.

At basic education level, teaching approaches are beginning to change in all countries, especially leading countries in education, such as Finland and Singapore.

South Africa cannot and should not be left out. The progress we are seeing in Gauteng and the Western Cape vis-à-vis the modernisation of the classroom, with the Eastern Cape and Free State following suit, is encouraging. The alignment of content and teaching methodology to real-life situations, in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, are therefore imperative.

This makes Operation Phakisa for ICT in Education vitally important. This includes the provision of core connectivity to schools; the development of learning and teaching materials; more effective use of ICTs in the administration and evidence-based improvement of the education system; and the preparation of teachers for an education system more strongly underpinned by ICTs.

We are preparing learners for the Fourth Industrial Revolution through a three-pronged approach: the revision to school curriculum design, including (a) play-based learning methodology for the foundation phase, computer application technology, information technology, and the three-stream curriculum model; (b) the provision of ICT resources to schools, including connectivity and devices through Operation Phakisa; and (c) the integration of technology in teaching and learning (e-learning) through Operation Phakisa.

Critical is the integration of ICTs into all levels of the education system to improve the quality of teaching and learning by digitally transforming the basic education sector. All stakeholders are aligning and delivering a consistent solution to ensure no school is left behind. But we are cautious to ensure that education sector transformation is not dictated to by technology, as it cannot be an end to itself, but should rather be informed by sound educational needs.

* Motshekga is Minister of Basic Education

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of  Independent Media.