As a nation we must all agree that basic education is indeed at the heart of building a South African nation for a better and prosperous future. International Literacy Day celebrated yesterday (08 September 2018), under the theme: “Literacy in a digital world: Taking measures to leverage the economic potential of the 4th Industrial Revolution” gives us the opportunity to reflect on what is being done to promote literacy especially as it relates to opportunities presented by the 4th Industrial Revolution.

The 4th Industrial Revolution, which is upon us already, and will continue to be just another slogan, if we do not improve the quality and efficiency of the basic education system in our country.

We must ensure that more learners reach the basic levels of literacy and numeracy in the Foundation Phase. This is an overriding determinant of how successful learners will be in their 12 years of schooling to Matric; and largely determines whether learners will cope with schooling at all, or run the risk of dropping out. As the Department of Basic Education we are making early grade learning and teaching our topmost priority.

That said it must be acknowledged that we currently stand on the brink of a disruptive technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, this technological transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.  We do not yet know just how it will unfold; but one thing is clear, the response to it, must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders, from the public and private sectors, to the academia and civil society.

Globally, countries are being challenged to respond to the opportunities and risks presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Advanced Technologies, such as automation, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing, and autonomous vehicles will demand non-routine, interpersonal, analytical, and social skills, such as persuasion, as well as emotional and social intelligence; and will demand creativity, agility and adaptability.  Furthermore, creative and critical thinking, communication, media literacy, and ethics, will be demanded.

The advent of the 4th Industrial Revolution has therefore led to the expansion of the definition of “Literacy” beyond just reading and writing. Educational institutions are now expected to meet learners’ needs through the integration of 21st century skills – referred to as the 5 Cs. These 5 Cs are critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, and computational thinking. The 5 Cs underpin new forms of Literacy in the digital world, these include for instance digital literacy, media literacy among many others. These new forms of literacy are largely underpinned by developments in technology.

At the basic education level, the modernisation of the classroom has become a phenomenon of the global society. Teaching approaches, are beginning to change in all countries, especially leading countries in education, such as Finland and Singapore. 

South Africa cannot and should not be left out. The progress we are seeing in Gauteng and the Western Cape, vis-à-vis the modernisation of the classroom, with the Eastern Cape and Free State following suit, is encouraging to say the least. The alignment of content and teaching methodology, to real life situations, in the context of the 4th Industrial Revolution, are therefore imperative.

This makes the work we are doing in the Operation Phakisa for ICT in Education so vitally important. This includes the provision of core connectivity to schools; the development of learning and teaching materials; the more effective use of ICTs in the administration and evidence-based improvement of the education system; and the preparation of teachers for an education system more strongly underpinned by ICTs.

We preparing learners for the Fourth Industrial Revolution through a three-pronged approach, which consists of the revision to school curriculum design, including the (a) PLAY-based learning methodology for the Foundation Phase, Computer Application Technology, Information Technology, and the Three- Stream Curriculum Model; (b) the provision of ICT resources to schools, including connectivity and devices through Operation Phakisa; and (c) the integration of technology in teaching and learning (e-Learning) through Operation Phakisa.

Critical for us, is the integration of ICTs into all the levels of the education system in order to improve the quality of teaching and learning, by digitally transforming the basic education sector. All stakeholders are aligning and delivering a consistent solution to all schools, to ensure that no school is left behind, because of its geopolitical location. We want a learner in Lusikisiki to have the same access to ICTs, as a learner in Johannesburg. For without this, such learners would be unable to cope with the demands of the 21st century and 4th Industrial Revolution.

We are however cautious in the way we are embracing technology, to ensure that any transformation in the education sector, is not dictated to by technology; otherwise it will be like ‘a cart pulling the horse, or the tail wagging the dog’.  Technology cannot be an end to itself, but should rather be informed by sound educational needs.

Angie Motshekga is the Minister of Basic Education.

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