In this file picture, Brighton Ndlovu and Mbali Sibanda do an assignment with their new gadget during a handover of PPC’s IPAD learning programme at Forest Town School for Learners with Special Needs by Deputy Social Development  Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu.Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha
In this file picture, Brighton Ndlovu and Mbali Sibanda do an assignment with their new gadget during a handover of PPC’s IPAD learning programme at Forest Town School for Learners with Special Needs by Deputy Social Development Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu.Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha

Stepping into tune with technology

By Daddy Khuselo Time of article published Jan 15, 2018

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TECHNOLOGY has changed almost everything we do from the way we communicate, work, consume media and procure services.

Due to its influence on the world and our interaction with it, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has described it as a “language which must be mastered from an early age if they are to thrive in the modern workplace and society”.

In its Realising Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (White Paper), the WEF observes that, “education and training systems, having remained largely static and under-invested in for decades”, despite the fact that 65% of children entering primary school today will have jobs that do not yet exist and, “on average, a third of the skill sets required to perform today’s job will be wholly new by 2030”.

This is quite alarming since it is undisputed that access to education is supposed to enable employment and socio-economic development. How will this be achieved if our education systems are neither relevant nor equipping our learners with the skills to navigate the contemporary world?

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) suggests that, since even “digital skills can rapidly become obsolete due to changes in business approaches and the advances in technology, training programmes and school curricula need to become more agile and responsive to this.”

To build digital fluency, WEF concurs, saying “technology should be embedded across the educational experience to mirror its relevance in all sectors and careers”. Education should give learners a deep understanding of how to apply and innovate with technology so that they can play an active role in shaping the tools of the future.

To achieve this, I am firmly on the side of advocates for early childhood development who say the first 1000 days (2.7 years) of a child’s life are crucial to their future development.

The WEF’s paper asserts that “by the time children from disadvantaged backgrounds reach age 5, they (would) have already had a 30million-word exposure gap in terms of linguistic and brain development”.

“Conversely, studies have shown that mothers’ literacy rates are highly correlated with those of their children. Early childhood education is therefore critical to making further progress on human capital in developing countries as well.”

South Africa has, in the National Development Plan (NDP) recognised the need for, and importance, of early childhood education describing it as a “top priority among measures to improve the quality of education and long-term prospects for future generations”.

The NDP also makes provision for universal access to two years of early childhood development. Despite this commitment, implementation is inconsistent. Understanding the gap between early childhood development programmes and formal education may help us to understand the dismal performance of South African learners in a range of international benchmarking studies.

We may also be able to understand why despite the significant investment in education as a national apex priority, this is not being matched with quality education outcomes.

Recently, South Africa’s performance in the Progress in International Literacy Study (PIRLS) showed that at least 78% of Grade 4 learners were unable to read for comprehension. Of the 12810 Grade 4 pupils from 293 schools across South Africa tested in 2016 in any of the 11 official languages they were most comfortable with, nearly eight out of 10, could not read for meaning.

This test measured traditional literacy. I wonder how our learners would have fared had they been tested for digital or technology literacy or fluency?

Looking at what WEF says about children from disadvantaged homes and their linguistic and brain development, we must ask what is to be done?

Legislation, policies and plans are only part of the response. We must begin to implement these plans and policies to make the changes that are required. Another challenge in South Africa is that poverty and inequality are deepening rather than diminishing.

Perhaps it is time to look at our young people as a national asset - they are the leaders, employers, employees and parents of the future. “It takes a village” should be more than an African cliché.

It is time that we looked at our challenges creatively to come up with innovative solutions. Is it not perhaps time for business to play a more active role in looking for, and supporting, solutions?

We have many unemployed graduates; can't these be employed as tutors at, for instance, at community centres?

Our young learners will be off the streets and gainfully occupied and we can begin to consistently provide the very necessary early childhood development that is so urgently required.

Challenges faced positively can bring the greatest changes and development.

Daddy Khuselo is chief executive of Mbuso Management Solutions and a corporate strategist, organisational and human capital development expert, training facilitator and motivational speaker (@DaddyKhuselo)

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