The British Council’s Creating Opportunity for South Africa’s Youth (COSY) project partnered with Digify Africa to impart digital skills to young people, particularly young women, in rural and peri-urban areas in South Africa, as part of its broader entrepreneurship programme.
Growth of the entrepreneurial sector is key to addressing South Africa’s unemployment crisis, especially amongst the youth. Young people, however, face many barriers to success. Amongst these is a dire lack of digital literacy and access to internet and data.
Other partners such as LIFECo and Business Arts South Africa also partnered with COSY to deliver core skills to enhance young peoples’ entrepreneurial knowledge and boost their employability.
Founder of Digify Africa, Gavin Weale says, “A big focus for Digify Africa – and the reason why it wanted to be part of COSY programme – is to bridge the digital divide in South Africa. “Although there is a lot of excitement around the digital economy and the opportunities it creates, the big risk is that we end up concentrating on improving the lives of people who are already digitally connected.”
He says in the formal education context, the teachers themselves often don’t have the skills to be able to capitalise on technology. “While cell phones may be more prevalent than other devices, they are currently fairly limited in their ability to drive learning and education.
This means people who are not connected to the internet get left behind, resulting in a widening of the digital divide as opposed to it becoming a democratising influence and opening up opportunities for everyone. It magnifies the inequality that already exists.
South Africa’s lack of digital literacy goes hand in hand with its education and literacy challenges. In the broadest sense, it mirrors those challenges, that is, people in poorer communities have less access to resources and often receive a poorer standard of education. Similarly, they have limited access to key aspects of digital such as connectivity, devices and skills.
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While kids in rural or township schools may have devices such as computers, tablets and cell phones nut they are usually not utilised properly. This is because there may be no connectivity or limited access to connectivity in the area. If there is access, it may be beyond peoples’ means to afford it.
It is difficult to deliver basic skills such as how to use Microsoft products or spreadsheets or even email using only a handset. This means poorer communities may have a more restricted horizon in terms of the platforms and tools they can use.
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However, this is changing and the prospect of being able to deliver education via cell phones is improving.