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Speech by Deputy Minister Mkhize at Barrage Primary School

dm barrage

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

Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize on the Occasion of Back to School Campaign at Barrage Primary School

Vanderbijlpark,

23 January 2015.

 

Introduction

It is such an honour for me to be standing here in front of you, our future leaders. The very same children gathered here today are tomorrow's engineers, scientists, doctors, lecturers etc. It is always exciting to come to the Vanderbjil area, the leaders here

are actively involved in matters pertaining to the community. We have in the past interacted with the community and the leaders

here are always actively involved. It is also pleasing to see that you have came out with your numbers because education is a

game changer in the life of a child. Teachers and the leaders of this area must take lessons from the Soweto Committee of Ten

who stood together and say that education will be number one priority in Soweto. We must all go back to basics and re-visit

those community partnerships which proved efficient in the olden

days.

We have seen the importance of education and acquiring of critical skills increasing over the years. The use of technology is at

the centre of this revolution, creating room for new forms of delivery of educational content and the accompanying teaching

aids. That's the reason why today we are able to talk about paperless classrooms.

One of the most famous words of the late President, our first democratic leader, uTata Nelson Mandela are that " Education is

the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Indeed knowledge is power for when you have it, it

resides within you, gives you the ability to influence your surroundings and nobody can snatch it away from you. At the

launch of the "Paperless Classrooms" project in Tembisa, the Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said "education is the only

available weapon with which to fight the high unemployment rate and poverty confronting the country". Gone are those days when technological improvements and better teaching aids were only limited to "elite" schools in urban areas. This opportunity of quality education given to us by our government must be received with open arms not only by children but also by parents.

With that said, allow me to talk to you today about "ICT Connectivity and E-learning". This is particularly important to talk about because today we find ourselves in communities where almost everyone is connected. You will agree with me that in this community of Barrage almost every household has a cellular phone. We are also seeing an inundation of low cost smart phones into the South African market. So this in itself tells a story, today's youth are generally technology savvy. What we need to do is to ensure that the very same technology is used for learning and teaching.

 

Through studies conducted by the European Commission, it was established that e-skills shortages, gaps and mismatches and a

digital divide will affect negatively growth, competitiveness, innovation, employment and social cohesion. It then remain

critical for us as a developing to put forward the agenda of e-skilling our nation and that can be started at a community level.  

It was exciting to me to learn that today's program started with a door to door campaign to look for school going children that are

not attending school. To me this was a powerful message sent out to the community, our children's participation or school

attendance remains hugely our responsibility as parents, community leaders and government leaders. It pains me to see

children walking the streets during school hours. As they normally say, it takes a community to raise a child.

I'm also glad that we have in our midst today representatives from the South African Police Services, who have spoken to us about safeguarding our schools premises. Schools facilities are not only here to benefit the children, they can benefit us as a society as well. Nowadays technology is such that we can talk about concepts such as "Connect A School, Connect A Community".

 

This very school can be used as a WIFI hotspot wherein people can have wireless internet access. So if the same community was

to vandalize and steal from the same school it will be a great injustice to yourselves as the community.  Connected schools can

serve as community ICT centers for disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, including women and girls.

Our Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services is mandated to enhance the capacity of, and exercise oversight

over, State Owned Companies (SOC’s) as the delivery arms of the Department‘s mandate. Sentech is one of our delivery arms

which ensures that the roll-out of the ICT infrastructure reaches our most rural communities and poorest of the poor throughout

the country.

 

Government Policy Pillars

The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Sector is regarded by government as one of the game changers which can

ensure inclusive access to scarce resources of this country. The National Development Plan (NDP) vision 2030 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. By letting our children to have access to ICT at a very tender age is one of the critical steps that ought to be taken towards ensuring increased uptake and usage of ICTs and the elimination of the e-skills gap. 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 service 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”. 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.

 

It must be 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. Ascertaining that our children are at

school and also seeing to it that these schools are connected will go a long way 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 of accessing and processing 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 this very reason that Government together with the State Owned Companies such as Sentech, ICASA, Broadband Infraco and USAASA 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 the

attainment of digital skills in order to reach their full potential by connecting them to a diverse range of ICT services using various electronic devices. ICT allow learners to discover educational opportunities, improve academic performance, and prepare them 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 states 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. As I have already mentioned connecting this

school is not only for the benefit of the learners but for the community as a whole.

 

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’s competitors”.

 

Therefore 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 learner 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 the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) continue to push for greater ICT integration in schools, it is important to note that 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 learners use the technology in relevant and authentic ways that actually improve education and foster the knowledge and skills necessary

for lifelong learning.

 

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 dysfunctional infrastructure. 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.

 

Conclusion

The National Development Plan calls for an e-literate society by

2030, it remains upon ourselves as parents, teachers, the community and government that our children have access to relevant ICTs to enable them to be e-literate. The only place where they can receive these skills is at schools and we therefore have to treasure our schools together with the latest technology that the government is busy installing.

Each and every municipality and community should decide on what kind of education they want for their children. This is the start, it is only for us to say how do we want to go foward.

I thank you.