Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

As the government moves to prepare the country for the fourth industrial revolution, the department of basic education says it will soon begin training teachers for a new coding curriculum.

Concerns have been raised previously that SA’s education and labour system appears to not be ready for the inevitable shift to the fourth industrial revolution. ​

A recent study by global consultancy firm Accenture found that close to 6-million jobs in SA will be at risk over the next seven years due to automation. The study highlighted that both blue and white-collar jobs are at risk. These occupations include those of clerks, cashiers, bank tellers, construction workers, mining and maintenance staff.

Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed members of a presidential commission on the fourth industrial revolution to recommend policies, strategies and plans to position SA as a competitive player in the digital space.

In his state of the nation address in February, Ramaphosa emphasised the need for the country to adapt to and take advantage of the revolutionary advances in technology.

“Unless we adapt, unless we understand the nature of the profound change that is reshaping our world and unless we readily embrace the opportunities it presents, the promise of our nation’s birth will forever remain unfulfilled,” Ramaphosa said then.

The department of basic education said the plan was to pilot coding and robotics as a subject in 1,000 schools from the 2020 academic year. Eventually, the department wants to train at least three teachers in each of the 16,000 primary schools to teach coding.  The implementation of coding in the system will focus on grades 7 to 9.

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga said various tech companies, including Google and Teen Geeks, a nongovernmental organisation that teaches children how to code, are supporting the department to develop a coding platform. The platform uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to customise teaching and learning.

In a written reply to a question from the EFF in parliament, Motshekga said besides training offered by the provinces, her department has to date trained about 44,000 teachers in computer skills.

The teachers will be trained on coding from June to September 2019, said Motshekga.

Responding to another question from the IFP, Motshekga said the government will work with the private sector to fast track the technological overhaul for the education system.

“The [department] is on a trajectory towards the fourth industrial revolution and recognises that it is crucial to [put] onboard key stakeholders like teacher unions, and to provide effective change management, training and support, not only to teachers but also subject advisers and curriculum developers,” said Motshekga.   

She said province-wide programmes on information and communication technologies, integration training for both teachers and subject advisers have been running since 2005. Training is classified into three levels: basic skills, intermediate skills and advanced skills.

Technology analyst Arthur Goldstuck has previously highlighted that SA’s education and labour systems are not ready for the fourth industrial revolution.

Goldstuck said SA needs to respond to the technological changes over the long term.

“For the long-term, we have to change our entire education system to prepare students for a future that will require problem-solving skills and collaboration abilities. Because technology will evolve too fast to prepare for specific technologies in the education system, the approach must be one that evolves abilities like thinking, analytics, problem-solving and collaboration.”