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Is technology the answer to South Africa’s massive youth unemployment?

It has been 40-years since 16 June 1976 when a group of brave youngsters in Soweto rose up against the tyranny of the Apartheid government to take back their future, and the future of the next generations. So the really hard question is: Was their struggle for nought? Of course not. The uprisings of 1976 ultimately led to the downfall of the apartheid regime but if we take honest stock of where we are now vs four decades ago, are the youth (specifically) any better off?

I believe our current education system is South Africa’s new Apartheid. It is failing our children and it will also certainly fail our children’s children and the status quo has seen thousands (hundreds of thousands) of students and other youth take to the streets over the last year or so in various forms of protest action. Their voices, in many ways, are calling for the same things the youngsters in 1976 were. They want to be seen, heard and provided for. They want an equal chance for a proper education. They too want a bright future. And isn’t it worth asking ourselves why, 40 years later, our youth are having to fight the same fight as their predecessors?

We currently have a youth unemployment rate of 60%. SIXTY-percent! Let that sink in for a moment. That equates to a terrifying two out of three South Africans aged between 18 to 28 being unemployed.

One of the most effective ways to break the poverty and unemployment cycle is through education. But, at its most fundamental, the education system is just not working as a stepping stone to employment. The job market has become highly competitive and employers are looking for holistically skilled candidates that offer much more than just a tertiary qualification. Which means that vulnerable young South Africans that come from poor households with limited (broken) schooling stand little to no chance of finding worthwhile employment.

Poorer South Africans sit outside of middle-class privilege they do not benefit from the ‘step-up’ that strong networks or social capital affords many of their peers. They also tend not to have the finances to enable them to get to where the jobs are. If South Africa’s schooling was solid, young South Africans would not need privilege or parental funds to help them find jobs or build a career but sadly, as it sits at the moment, this is not the case.

So what are the solutions? Do they live in a digital space? And if so (because I certainly believe they do), how do we get to a place where the resources are accessible to the South Africans that need them the most? To answer this I want to explore the way technology is changing the face of education. What can digital learning achieve:

  • The ability to open up classrooms so that they become a collaborative teaching arena. Online communication tools and networks will make it possible to collaborate with teachers and schools all over the country. Less experienced teachers or those from less equipped schools (usually located in poorer areas) will be able to tap into the tools, lesson plans and resources prepared by more experienced teachers – helping to bridge a massive equality divide.
  • Teaching spaces will become more specific. As more options open up online, pupils and scholars will be able to engage with online spaces that teach them exactly what they need to know. No longer will it be about generic teaching materials and styles. The youth will be empowered to find schooling and learning that suits THEM.
  • Learning experiences will be a lot more interactive. Online adaptive tools, apps, and other resources mean there is again more power in the hands of the learners and it means that instructors are ‘talking’ less and spending more time on the lessons and the tools.
  • Once the infrastructure is in place — and provinces like the Western Cape are proving that this is possible — access to top quality resources and teachers is no longer an issue. Services can be provided from wherever, to wherever they are needed most.
  • It becomes easier for youngsters to move from a high school, into tertiary education and then into a place of employment because the access to the education, resources and support all sit in the same place. The transition becomes A LOT easier to manage.

It’s still early days in South Africa but as our digital industry continues to grow it opens up doors for a multitude of services including ones that act as a bridge between the current schooling system and our unemployed youth.

Platforms that provide resources, support and mentoring to assist young South Africans in successfully navigating the job market, brands like Microsoft that are investing massively in digital learning resources which they want to make accessible to everyone and initiatives like Star Schools that assist matriculants to re-do their exams, are all great examples of what can be achieved in an online space.

Digital learning, if implemented properly with relevant stakeholders, can be the key to bridging the equality divide, and to unlocking the potential of this generation and generations to come. Digital learning is a game changer and the growth in digital in South Africa has been exponential over the last few years, especially when you look at people accessing the internet via mobile phones. Because of this I truly believe that not only can digital learning make a real difference to the lives of the millions of South African youngsters so desperately in need, but it can also position our country as a beacon of hope for the billions of under-educated but highly motivated learners across the globe.

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