Decrease data costs to increase ICT literacy

Friday, April 26, 2019

Communications Deputy Minister Pinky Kekana has reiterated the call for a decrease in data costs in order to increase ICT literacy in society.

“The costs of data in this country are unjustifiable by any standard. We must do more to ensure that we connect more schools to the internet grid. It is the responsibility of government and the private sector. This is crucial for us to bridge the digital divide,” said the Deputy Minister.

The Deputy Minister was addressing the Mobile Learning Week Seminar on Artificial Intelligence for Sustainable Development at the University of Mpumalanga, in Nelspruit, on Friday.

The department, working through the United Nations Education and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) Communications and Information (CI) Sector coordinated a seminar, held under the theme “Artificial Intelligence for Sustainable Development”.

The seminar focussed on, among other things, threats and opportunities of artificial intelligence in education and the upsurge of artificial intelligence readiness of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.

Kekana said there was a need to make e-books, tablets and e-learning apps accessible to all in a sustainable manner.

Digital technology and artificial intelligence is not the future anymore, but the present.

“If we move from this premise, it follows then we should ask how we leverage mobile learning and mobile technologies to support and enhance education for all. I am pleased that tech based companies form part of government’s efforts to answer this question, because, the answer lies somewhere in a strong collaboration between the public sector and private sector,” the Deputy Minister said.

Together with a plan to equip learners with mobile learning tools, such as tablets in all public schools, government believes that this will substantially improve reading comprehension in the first years of school.

“This is essential in equipping children to succeed in education, in work and in life, and it is possibly the single most important factor in overcoming poverty, unemployment and inequality.”

She, however, acknowledged that mobile learning tools on their own will not be good enough, due to the low number of practitioners in early childhood development centres.

According to the experts in the sector, the education system has approximately only 100 000 early learning practitioners.

“To teach ECD is a specialised skill, not all teachers can teach it. As such, we fully appreciate the fact that, supplying mobile learning tools in schools will not solve underlying issues negatively impacting the South African education sector. A holistic approach is required where technology is an enabler to learning and access to knowledge,” Kekana said.

The mobile learning week comes at a time when President Cyril Ramaphosa has set a clear path for South Africa’s education system. 

During his State of the Nation Address, President Ramaphosa announced a plan to bring ECD under the ambit of the Department of Basic Education. This will ensure that all children have two years of compulsory ECD before going to Grade 1. –