By Aaron Thornton, Managing Director, Dial a Nerd

It is important to consider the many challenges that South Africa’s young people are facing. Youth unemployment continues to rise, which is intensified by weak economic growth. There is also widespread political apathy amongst young people, as indicated by the alarmingly low youth voter registration numbers captured by the IEC in the 2019 elections. Yet there are also many positive indicators, chief among them a president who appears to be committed to preparing our youth for a digital future.

Earlier this year, President Ramaphosa stated that over the next six years, government will provide every school child in South Africa with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device.

“We will start with those schools that have been historically most disadvantaged and are located in the poorest communities, including multigrade, multiphase, farm and rural schools,” he said. “Already, 90% of textbooks in high enrolment subjects across all grades and all workbooks have been digitised.”

Even more encouragingly, President Ramaphosa has acknowledged the importance of preparing learners and educators for the emergence of robotics, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Supporting digital initiatives

On the back of such positive (and public) momentum, it is critical for businesses and the private sector to step up and meet the challenge. We all need to find ways to harness our particular skills and expertise to equip young people with the tools and knowledge required to flourish in the fourth industrial revolution.

When considering the government’s initiative around placing tablets in schools, for example, one needs to ask:

• Is the right infrastructure in place to support a digitised learning environment?
• Do educators and learners need special training in order to harness new digital tools?
• Can businesses work with the government to enable this?

Promoting digital awareness

In addition to providing key infrastructure and connectivity support, the private sector arguably has a critical role to play in promoting digital awareness. For example, we must encourage targeted campaigns, classes and training for both students and parents that highlights the risks of engaging with content online.

While digital portals and digital tools can propel learners into global academia and business, it can also expose them to an underworld of criminality and cyber bullying.

This is where formal training, as well as the active input of educators and parents becomes vital. We need to ensure that our youth enter the fourth industrial revolution with the right skills and expertise, but also with an acute awareness of the perils of this new world.

By uniting the efforts of government, businesses, and educators, we can empower our youth to lead the way and in fact pioneer new ways of working in the digital age.