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Yesh Surjoodeen | 28 June 2023

Across South Africa, an important narrative is being written as the nation commemorates Youth Month, with digital transformation, innovative technology, and the relentless pursuit of solutions to youth unemployment at the core.

It presents a vision of how the technology sector, education system, and industry stakeholders can collaborate to advance digital literacy, opening doors for the younger generation towards gainful employment and enhanced social mobility.

South Africa’s youth, vibrant and eager to make their mark, represent more than 35% of the population. Yet, they are confronted with a staggering unemployment rate, which stands at 63,9% for those aged 15-24, and 42,1% for those aged 25-34. Alongside this pressing issue, an equally significant challenge emerges – the digital divide.

In 2018, the National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS) found that only 4675 out of 23,471 schools had internet connectivity for teaching and learning, and more recent reports indicate that only 22% of households have a computer, while only 10% have an internet connection nationwide.

The technological revolution, which has swept across sectors globally, positions the local tech industry as a potential game-changer in this context. The potential lies not only in the creation of tech-related jobs but also in the sector’s ability to influence education, foster digital literacy, and inspire a new generation of digital natives.

Collaboration is the key to unlocking the youth’s potential

To reach this potential, meaningful initiatives must be put in place, leveraging technology for improved access to education and skill development.

The initiatives by tech giant HP serve as an illustrative example. HP LIFE, a global training programme, offers free, accessible IT and business skills training courses in multiple languages. Available online and offline, the programme equips individuals across the world, including South Africa, with skills for the future. Additionally, the Digital Equity Accelerator, an initiative of the Aspen Institute in collaboration with HP, invests in organisations that fast-track digital inclusion, thereby advancing social and economic equality.

Moreover, the Innovation and Digital Education Academy (HP IDEA) programme, rolled out in partnership with the Umlambo Foundation in local South African schools, is another step towards enhancing the digital capabilities of educators. This initiative, expected to enroll 30 000 teachers by 2023, brings innovation to the classrooms, potentially benefiting hundreds of thousands of students. To further celebrate the significance of Youth Month, HP South Africa recently partnered with the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) to empower a future ready generation through digital skills. This programme will impact 20 000 youth over the next three years.

The integration of technology in the education sector, as evidenced by the Cambridge Partnership for Education’s EdTech Fellowship with HP, further highlights the potential of innovative partnerships. The seven-month programme focuses on enhancing digital transformations in education systems across Sub-Saharan Africa, thereby addressing challenges from connectivity and device availability to digital content creation and digital skills development.

Beyond providing resources and platforms, there’s a critical need for the tech sector to tap into the wellspring of agility and creativity within the younger generation. By creating opportunities for their ideas to flourish and manifest into tangible outcomes, the tech sector can drive innovation from within.

Working toward tangible solutions to bridge the digital divide

However, the path towards alleviating youth unemployment and promoting digital literacy in South Africa is a multi-pronged endeavour. It requires sustained investment in digital infrastructure, ongoing initiatives for skills development, and inclusive policies that bridge the digital divide. Government policies and regulations need to be conducive to the proliferation of digital infrastructure and access to quality education. Simultaneously, educational institutions must adapt their curricula to integrate digital literacy and other skills required for the modern job market.

Moreover, the tech industry should continue to foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. Creating avenues for start-ups and supporting incubation centres can be effective ways to stimulate job creation, innovation, and economic growth. Beyond simply creating job opportunities, there is a need to match job skills with market demands.

Current trends in Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, big data, and cybersecurity suggest a range of job roles that will dominate the future. Consequently, re-skilling and up-skilling initiatives targeted at the youth can help align their skills with these emerging trends.

There is also a pressing need for mentorship and guidance. The tech industry, full of experienced professionals and success stories, is a rich source for mentors who can guide the youth on their career paths, helping them navigate the challenges and seize the opportunities in the tech sector.

Youth Month is a compelling platform to reassess the country’s strategic approach towards development. The urgent need for digital literacy and its potential in addressing youth unemployment is evident and the role of the technology sector is pivotal in fostering an environment conducive to learning, innovation, and job creation.

It is important to remember that the tech industry does not operate in a vacuum, and its efforts should be part of a larger, multi-stakeholder collaboration. By leveraging technology as a catalyst, it is possible to empower the youth, promote social mobility, and contribute to the nation’s socioeconomic prosperity. This is the compelling narrative that should define the country’s future, catalysing change in South Africa and setting a powerful precedent for the rest of the world.

‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.


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