Digitisation is the portal to growth for business and government
State focus on primary schools, higher learning, and smart city should be intensified
Though it is undeniably difficult to look back at February while still in the midst of a global pandemic, reflection can reveal the many positive developments and lessons the crisis has brought.
From a digital transformation perspective February was significant in that it marked the month of the state of the nation address, in which the government outlined initiatives that would place the country on track to realise economic growth through large-scale digitisation. These initiatives included the after focus areas:
- Grass-roots development, bringing coding and robotics to primary schools.
- Higher learning, including plans to build a university of science and innovation in Ekurhuleni.
- Developing a world-class smart city.
Now, as the public and private sectors look to adapt and adjust in line with the radical changes brought about by the pandemic and national lockdown, it is valuable to reflect on these digital initiatives, and take proactive steps to ensure business leaders and policymakers remain firmly on course to drive economic growth through strategic digitisation.
Regarding education and vital grass-roots development in the light of coronavirus-related changes, educators have had to scramble to find ways to continue their efforts using a myriad of digital channels after the forced closure of schools and higher learning institutions nationwide. Teachers have fought heroic battles to keep in touch with pupils via e-mail and even WhatsApp, to maintain momentum for the school or varsity year. At both K12 school and university level we have glimpsed the possibilities of moving to a far more virtualised classroom environment, and seen that online learning is viable and highly beneficial in many ways.
The lockdown has revealed stark digital inequalities, with many pupils unable to access the data, connectivity and devices they need to keep up with their global peers. The crisis also revealed the urgent need to train teachers in the use of virtual classroom environments — and to upskill their own digital skills and capabilities. For SA to make faster progress towards the state of the nation address goal of introducing initiatives such as coding and robotics in primary schools, for example, we need to invest in dynamic virtual learning platforms, connectivity and access — as well as rigorous digital training and upskilling for the nation’s teachers.
Regarding the state of the nation address goal of developing a smart city, fast, robust connectivity will be vital to such an initiative. While the government has recently committed to investing in major capital projects, which are now being identified, it is encouraging to learn that this includes a mass digitisation drive. While the government is not directly investing in a smart city yet, new mass digitisation investments will hopefully be in close alignment with a future smart city … and the rapid digitisation of important metro areas.
Despite the enormous hardships due to Covid-19, the lockdown has accelerated key building blocks in the context of digital transformation: many companies and institutions are fully embracing cloud computing and flexible, scalable digital solutions, for example. And the education sector has gained invaluable lessons about what is required to keep abreast with global developments.
Arguably, this is precisely when business and public sector leaders must embrace the opportunity for change, and drive the further acceleration of digital transformation across all sectors. From a business and leadership perspective, the following will be critical:
- Creation of more IT and digitally focused internships and job-shadowing opportunities.
Mentorship programmes for school and university students within Stem-based disciplines.
Dynamic programmes and coding events hosted by businesses such as hackathons and free webinars.
Businesses should consider pro bono work in key sectors with aspiring partners (these can turn into more formalised, commercial engagements over time) but the emphasis is on skills transfer and knowledge sharing, and removing digital barriers to entry into the SA and global markets.
Channel investment into grass-roots education (including online learning materials and devices as well as connectivity), and teacher skills development and training.
Creation of more incubation hubs and accelerators for digital businesses to support innovation.
Business leaders have a critical role to play in making SA more inclusive digitally. By taking a proactive approach and looking to build partnerships and drive investments that support widespread digitisation and digital skills training, we can turn the dark days of Covid-19 into a catalyst for long-term economic growth and grass-roots innovation.
• Jamieson is CTO at Altron Karabina.
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