Vodacom has a longstanding and solid partnership with the Department of Basic Education. The relationship is premised on Vodacom’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals and our resolve to be a leading digital telecommunications company that leverages emerging digital technologies to transform lives. As the world leaps deeper into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is imperative for the partnership to be assessed against the impact of this revolution on society, especially the youth.
Emerging views on the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution indicate that facets of this revolution, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence characterised by machine learning, big data analytics and robotics, would have both negative and positive implications for society, especially the job market. According to the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development, administrative tasks and manual jobs, such as those in the manufacturing, mining, construction, food preparation and cleaning services, requiring low levels of education and skills may be automated. Unfortunately, it is now evident from the World Bank’s report issued early this year that one of the contributing factors to South Africa’s high levels of inequality is the low levels of education and a semi- skilled workforce. These factors mean that if we do not manage this transformative revolution with circumspection, inequality may remain a major challenge for years to come. As a digital Telco and a Mandela Legacy Champion, Vodacom has a responsibility to minimise feared negative disruption of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on society.
To this end, stepping up our partnership with the Department of Basic Education requires the use of emerging digital technologies to improve digital literacy, especially for young people in disadvantaged or under- serviced areas. One of the biggest challenges of the Department of Basic Education is rural migration which does not only deplete population sizes in rural areas, but also contribute to brain drain, leading to shortage of teachers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. The other challenge facing the Department is the dropout rate. General reports indicate that almost only half of the million children that enter Grade 1 sit for matric exams twelve (12) years later – the other half drops out, not because all of them do not have the proficiency to move from one Grade to the next, but because they lack the necessary support required to do so, with stunting as one of the contributing factors. In the 21st Century, should residing in an under-serviced area deprive learners of good quality education due to shortage of teachers?
In 2008, the Vodacom Foundation established a Mobile Education Programme in partnership with the Department of Education to address digital literacy for learners, teachers and youth. The elements of the Programme are: connected schools with access to internet, a bursary scheme for best performing matriculants in the STEM subjects, teacher training in Information Communication Technologies (ICTs), ICT training for youth in the Vodacom Youth Academy, and e-learning through the Vodacom e-school for Grade R to Grade 12 learners. The latter is most popular with Grade 11 and 12 learners taking Maths, Science and Accounting subjects.
Since the inception of the Mobile Education Programme, we have connected and maintained 92 teacher centres and over 3000 schools across the country. We have also trained over 200 000 teachers on the use of ICTs in the classroom, and produced over 900 graduates from our 10 Youth Academies. The e-school currently has over half a million registered users, and our bursary programme has benefited 1200 students. What is next?
Emerging technologies, such as big data analytics and IoT, can assist to address some of the educational challenges facing government in under-serviced areas. Big data analytics has predictive capability that can be employed to detect the propensity of learners to drop out of school, and provide teachers with intelligence that could help them pay special attention to these learners and, thereby, minimise the dropout rates. It is not fictional but real – today big data analytics is used successfully to manage customer churn by studying customer and behavioural trends within existing laws and providing real-time data for immediate decision making. With IoT, in 2016, Vodacom launched a virtual classroom pilot project in one of the provinces, in partnership with the Department
of Basic Education, to address the shortage of teachers in the STEM subjects. From one school, we are able to anchor delivery of subject material to surrounding schools through video conferencing. Since its launch, the project is going from strength to strength.
Our focus on education going forward is no longer just to increase the quantity of beneficiaries and connected facilities, but to enhance connectivity and course content. There is no denying that the Fourth Industrial Revolution would require augmentation of the traditional skills that have been the focus of our training programmes over the years. The World Economic Forum states that skills relevant for future jobs will be soft skills, such as creativity, empathy, problem solving, critical thinking and people management. Where previously it was thought that some of these attributes were inane and innate abilities, it is becoming clear that these attributes are key and can be taught and acquired through programmes such as coding taught from early childhood. Vodacom has started delivering coding exercises to schools in under-serviced areas at a small scale and, this year, we are integrating coding into the Youth Academy Programme. The e-school is another programme that will be enhanced to make the platform more interactive – going forward, we plan to introduce private tutors, big data analytics for managing user trends, and incentives for users in certain categories. These new additions to our Mobile Education Programme will cost Vodacom over R350m in the next five years, a commitment we make to support the Sustainable Development Goals on education and gender equality.
Our view is that the Fourth Industrial Revolution should not cause anxiety but hope. Although matric and post-matric qualifications remain key, this revolution has the potential to leapfrog people with no matric qualifications or post-matric qualifications to functional levels relevant in some of the jobs of the future. Managed effectively, this revolution can be a game changer, not only through ushering amazing transformative technologies, but through possibilities to up-skill and re-skill people. Through our digitalisation strategy launched in 2016 in response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, our partnership with the Department of Basic Education and other partners is about creating a better future for young people by enhancing our digital literacy programmes in order
to contribute to creating the skills of the future. In order to realise our ambition, Vodacom has also introduced monitoring and evaluation to measure the impact of our investments on learner and teacher performance. It is a journey that we will embark on with our partners and the beneficiaries of our programmes.