SA must stop pretending it knows what the Fourth Industrial Revolution is all about

The digital divide is incredible and vast in South Africa, the writer says.
The digital divide is incredible and vast in South Africa, the writer says.
Image: 123RF/RA2

When this year began we all had resolutions and plans on how we would make this calendar year count and our students had another year of school to tackle so they may one day graduate.

Like most years, that is how 2020 began, but nobody truly knew what storm we would face as a country and the world altogether.  

When Covid19 hit our shores, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the closing of schools. At this point no one was thinking about the implications it would have on the academic year. 

Quickly, it became apparent that the lockdown would not be the 21 days that Ramaphosa had initially put in place. Which begged the question, What about the academic year?

If you had asked most South Africans six months ago if they think we live in a world where we as a nation had a digital divide, they would have most likely said no, because most people consider the divide in a different manner of speaking.    

The reality is that, most students who come from low-income families and communities barely get books from their government; so it is an unfair expectation that they will succeed like their counterparts who are afforded all the tools they need to forge through this pandemic.

The students who do not have online learning access are far too many. South Africa has to stop pretending to understand what the fourth Industrial Revolution is about and participate in bridging the gap for the sake of gen Z when it comes to education.

This goes beyond data access to data for online learning. Students need to have the ability to learn online and be comfortable in the setting.  

The divide that we all face as South Africans is incredibly deafening when you look at the fact that when the country went on lockdown most students; primary schools, high schools and even universities, were and are still not equipped for this lockdown.

Poor students have had to stay home for the past three months because of the virus with no education. But the kids who go to private schools continued with school without missing a beat.    

Private schools have transitioned to home-schooling their kids using technology, even conducting classes on Zoom and other apps. The divide goes far deeper as it blatantly exposes the economic differences this country has. 

All the marginalised kids who come from poor communities, low-income homes and especially the rural areas have literally been sitting at home with little to no help because their educators were not prepared for this disruption. South Africa as a whole wasn’t prepared and as a result most students in the country have suffered for the nation’s lack of preparedness.  

Only now after we have been knee-deep in the pandemic are institutions attempting to pilot online education in their campuses. High school students have lost the year and will most likely repeat because parents are willing to do that instead of sacrificing their children to a system that wishes to use their children as test subjects by returning to school with questionable protection measures.      

A few years back there was an initiative that was undertaken by Vodacom and basic education to bring online learning to students on their hand-held devices. The programme would have been helpful during this time at least.

It was a great idea but poorly executed as I have not heard about it after its inception. However, these kinds of measures are comparable to putting a plaster on a leaking geyser as they are not helpful.        

The digital divide is incredible and vast in South Africa and it won’t be bridged anytime soon if the government is not leading from the front. However, one cannot deny that the education sector is trying its best, but the solutions to curb the educational crisis have only widened the gap between the privileged and the underprivileged.

As per usual, the impoverished child lags further behind, whilst the well-off child edges forward. In a third world country like South Africa, online learning only benefits the privileged minority.

*Sandile Hlangani is a technology consultant and a tech journalist based in Johannesburg.          

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