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Speech by Deputy Minister Mkhize at the launch of the Computer Laboratory at Joe Slovo Freedom High School

Speech by the Deputy Minister of the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, 

Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize 

on the Occasion of Launch of the Computer Laboratory at Joe Slovo Freedom High School in Molteno, 

on 15 October 2014.

Honorouble Executive Mayor of Chris Hani District, Councillor Mxolisi Koyo

Chairperson of USAASA, Mrs. Phumla Radebe

Chief Executive Officer of USAASA, Mr. Zami Nkosi

District Director of Education

The Administrator of the Local Municipality

SGB Chairperson

Ladies and gentlemen 

Introduction

It is indeed a great pleasure for me to be standing here in front of you at this momentous day to launch the Joe Slovo Freedom High School Computer Laboratory. It gives us complete gratification to be able to assist the youth who are our future leaders; they are our future scientists, doctors, lecturers etc. The importance of education and being educated has increased over the years. The technological advancements has also increased over the years creating room for new forms of delivery of educational content and  the accompanying teaching aids.

Let me talk to you today about: "Facilitating the intervention in ensuring affordable, equitable access and usage of ICTs for effective e-learning". As the department we have the mandate to contribute to e-Skilling the nation for equitable prosperity and global competitiveness. We are also mandated to enhance the capacity of, and exercise oversight over, State Owned Companies (SOC’s) as the delivery arms of Government which the reason you see us today partnering with USAASA in delivering these computers. 

Government Policy Pillars

The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Sector is regarded by government as one of the game changers which can ensure growth in our economy. The country's vision 2030, the National Development Plan’s (NDP’s), articulates that ICT will continue to transform economic and social activities, and how individuals and communities communicate and function. The impact on each sector of society and each area of service delivery will depend on how uptake is addressed. The action we are taking today can therefore be seen as one of the critical steps towards ensuring increased uptake and usage of ICTs. A single cohesive strategy is essential to ensure diffusion of ICTs in all areas of society and the economy. Like energy and transport, ICT is an enabler – it can speed up delivery, support analysis, build intelligence, and create new ways to share, learn and engage.

As the department we have been very responsive in ensuring that a single cohesive policy for Broadband in the form of “South Africa Connect” is formulated and adopted to ensure affordable, equitable access and usage of Broadband. The South Africa Connect Broadband policy gives an expression to South Africa Vision 2030 in the NDP “a seamless information infrastructure by 2030 that will underpin a dynamic and connected vibrant information society and a knowledge economy that is more inclusive, equitable and prosperous”. The Department is therefore working with the relevant State Owned Companies (SOCs) such as USSAASA and ICASA to ensure that there is Broadband access to rural schools such Joe Slovo Freedom High School.

One of the Pillars of the South Africa Connect Policy is to ensure “Digital Opportunity”.  This will ensure multifaceted series of interventions which will stimulate demand through the e-readiness programmes in schools and clinics, formal skills development in curricula and general awareness and e-literacy campaigns. The high-level skills required by the sector, and the user skills necessary for social and economic inclusion will be targeted in schools, universities and community access centres to secure and create work. There will be an alignment of broadband initiatives with other government department programmes in Research and Development (R&D), innovation and entrepreneurialism. This type of interventions can only be achieved with the collaboration between the Department and SOCs such as USSAASA as it is happening today.

It has to be also noted that, one of the 2014-2019 electoral mandate priorities as stipulated in the Medium-Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) is: “Improving the quality of and expanding access to education and training”. Information and Communication Technology offers huge potential in support of improved education and training and huge ability to be harnessed to build long term decision making capacity in rural schools.  This can be achieved through the “Digital Development” guideline with the South Africa Connect with the pooling of the public sector demand for broadband in order to facilitate the smart procurement of high-quality broadband connectivity and services to address public sector broadband needs. This will simultaneously serve the communication needs in critical domains such as education and enable network extension to areas that might not be ordinarily reached by operators by reducing the associated investment risk as well as ensuring demand. Thus the initiative such the one witnessed today will go a long in ensuring that the quality education is improved.

Let me also add that, A Guide for School Principals (Managing ICTs in South African Schools -2004) noted that: “Narrowing the digital divide means ICT resources must be provided to those who do not have them, and that their competencies to access and process the knowledge that these resources make possible must be developed. It is generally recognised that programmes to develop ICT capability in a country should give priority to ICT in education. Learners need to develop ICT skills so that they can function effectively in the broader society and can contribute to the sustained use of ICTs within it”.  It is for the very reason that the Government together with the State Owned Companies such USSAASA, ICASA, Broadband Infraco and Sentech will ensure that the digital imbalances are completely eradicated.

It is therefore the responsibility of the Learning Institutions together with the Department and its agencies to ensure that students have access to platforms which will ensure digital skills in order to reach their full potential by connecting them to a diverse range of ICT services using various electronic devices. ICT allows learners to discover educational opportunities, improve academic performance, and prepare to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow. These goals highlight education as a community asset that can benefit from readily available technology.

ICT Connectivity and e-Governance 

The Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are being increasingly used by the governments to deliver its services at the locations convenient to the citizens.  The NDP state that “If ICTs are also to perform a developmental function; an adequate range of infrastructure and services, and content must be available at the lowest cost and highest quality to the wider community”. This is very critical given the fact that our democratically elected government of the ANC is a government for the people and always wants to keep its citizens informed. Hence the Department will always encourage the use of ICTs in order to enhance the role of citizens in relation to their capacity and opportunity for effective participation in the broad structures of governance. It is this type of Interventions by USSAASA which will ensure that our communities particularly our learners become active participants in further strengthening and building our democracy.

ICT Connectivity and e-learning 

Medium-Term Strategic Framework (2014_2019) has highlighted that, “Education plays an important role in equalising individuals’ life chances, promoting economic mobility, advancing economic growth, creating employment, eradicating poverty and reducing inequality. Improving the quality of education requires further improvements in early childhood development, investment in school infrastructure and facilities, effective school management and substantial improvements in literacy and numeracy.”  Furthermore, the NDP Vision 2030 highlights that “ICT will underpin the development of dynamic information society and knowledge economy that is more inclusive and prosperous. A seamless information infrastructure will meet the needs of citizens, business and public sector, providing access to the wide range of services required for effective economic and social participation – at a cost and quality at least equal to South Africa’a competitors”.

Therefore an Integrating ICT technology into the education sector would help learning systems to spread far beyond the boundaries of the physical classroom, schools, universities and traditional school day. It allows teachers and parents to communicate for better decisions related to student’s needs through improving the flow of information and facilitating the collection and analysis of greater amounts of student data to more accurately track student performance. It also increases the opportunities of collaboration to provide variety of educational resources, products and services, and definitely ICTs encourage innovation in the delivery mechanisms of the education process.

. The provision of ICT connectivity is therefore essential to provide learners with what is commonly called ‘twenty-first century skills’ – those competencies and values are needed to become responsible citizens in a learning society and sustain employability throughout a life in a knowledge economy. As rapid technological developments constantly drive and reshape the economy, it is vital for learners and citizens to be highly proficient in the use of ICTs. This will go a long way in ensuring that the culture of e-learning is improved.

In addition to providing learners with the technological experience necessary to participate in the global economy, the use of ICT in education can also improve the quality of teaching and learning. At the administrative level, ICT can make education systems more efficient by helping teachers and administrators streamline routine tasks and improve assessment and data collection which in return will improve the culture of learning.

As Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) continue to push for greater ICT integration in schools, it is important to note technology has not always been utilized in an effective manner to improve learning.  ICT connectivity, in and of itself, will not improve the quality of education. The Government will therefore ensure that we go one step further than simply enabling the conditions for technology use in schools (i.e. networking classrooms, training teachers or supplying educational resources). The real challenge is to help teachers and students use the technology in relevant and authentic ways that actually improve education and foster the knowledge and skills necessary for lifelong learning.

Gender equality and ICT

One of the Pillars of the Millennium Development Goals is to ensure Gender equality and the Government has made a commitment to harness the power of ICT to ensure that this goal is realised particularly for our high school Girls.

Although ICT and internet access with high-speed connectivity are making education and learning opportunities more widely available, there are still many challenges to overcome, including gender inequality in ICT literacy, skills and use. For many women and girls, access to ICT is a challenge. A recent study found that across the developing world, on average, nearly 25% fewer women than men have access to the internet, and the gender gap increases to nearly 45% in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa.

The study has further found that, in the poorest and most marginalised neighbourhoods across the globe it is often assumed that women will be less inclined towards use of technology, more likely to be excluded from its use and with less time or resources to enable them to take advantage of digital connections, than their male counterparts.

It is therefore this type of interventions and initiatives, in collaboration with USSAASA, which will assist the girl child to acquire the necessary information technology skills that will put her in a prime position that will ensure access to equal opportunities compared to the male counterpart. 

Maintenance of the infrastructure for sustained benefits

Some of the major challenges of ensuring greater benefits from some of these initiatives is lack of sustained benefits by the learners due to long outages and dysfunction of the infrastructures. This has been largely due to lack of quality connectivity; maintenance of hardware; selection and maintenance of software and security. DTPS is therefore calling for very stringent Service Level Agreement between the agencies and the Service Providers for an effective after Sales Support and Maintenance plan to ensure long term and sustained benefits for the Learners from these interventions.

The development of comprehensive Maintenance and Support Plans by all Service Providers outlining how the infrastructure will be maintained will be very key going forward.