Tue, 17 Sep 2019

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is already here, and SA is dangerously ill-prepared, warns Dr Corrin Varady, CEO of ed-tech start-up IDEA Digital Education.

Yet, statistics show the country is falling short on fundamental education and it seems SA is trying to approach it in a "band-aid or quick-fix kind" of way, he points out.

"The problem I am concerned about is the political and social appetite for silver bullets. A digital umbrella cannot just be thrown on top of unemployment and think that can fix it. You still need strong basic education to build on," Varady told Fin24.

"South Africa seems to think addressing unemployment issues means that, if someone has a basic digital literacy, he or she will get a job. However, to really embrace 4IR one has to be innovative and this does not come from doing a 4-week course."

The latest statistics show that only 21 000 South Africans gained employment in the last three months as the country's unemployment rate passed the 28% mark for the first time in 16 years.

"As it stands, many university graduates battle to find suitable jobs because their degrees are not setting them up for success in the 21st century," says Varady.

"Meanwhile, those in power continue talking about the 4IR as though it is some obscure future event that we still need to start preparing for."

How to make education fit for the future - expert

In his view, SA's current economic difficulties, "dismal" levels of literacy and numeracy among learners, "shocking" levels of content mastery among educators, as well as an overall digital divide in comparison to global counterparts, are all cause for grave concern in the face of the 4IR.

"A lot of countries in Africa are taking the longer-term view of education. SA has to de-politicise education. We need to address the basics of how to provide more students with quality education, but also to look at the outcomes," says Varady.

"One cannot just look at the pass rate. You must look at whether the baseline is met. We need to look at excelling. We must look at replicating what is being done in students who are achieving and scale that up."

In his view, SA needs some harder conversations about the structural pillars required for education. It should not be about surface education and training but what about what is needed to invest in over next 20 years.

"If the shocking Quarterly Labour Force unemployment statistics do not serve as a watershed wake up call for those in power, we are in for much worse very soon," he says.

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