Tech Removes Educational Barriers In Africa, High Illiteracy Creates Digital Divide

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Written by Staff

From How We Made It In Africa. Story by Kate Douglas.

Africa will not be able to truly take advantage of a digital revolution unless education is improved, said Louise van Rhyn, a business leader and founder of Symphonia for South Africa.

“If you cannot read it’s very hard to benefit from any of it,” Van Rhyn said during a panel discussion at market research firm Frost & Sullivan’s annual congress in Cape Town.

The Cape Town-based nonprofit Symphonia works toward quality education for all children in South Africa by 2025. Director and founder Van Rhyn believes in communities partnering with schools to improve educational outcomes.

Around 60 percent of South African children cannot not read at even a basic level by the end of Grade 4, according to two reports released in May by Stellenbosch University’s Research on Socioeconomic Policy Group.

“So we worry this is going to create a digital divide,” Van Rhyn said.

“Technology enables… but people make things happen and we are not paying enough attention to what the people need to make this happen – specifically most of our children, who will not be able to benefit from any of this simply because they cannot read.”

High illiteracy levels mean many struggle to benefit from a computer, the Internet or even an ATM, said Nico Czypionka, chairman of the Special Economic Zones Authority in Botswana.

“So we need to start with (improving) basic education,” he said. “It has to start at kindergarten and primary education.”

However, technology could actually improve access to education, said Jonathan Ayache, Uber’s general manager in South Africa. The onset of e-learning platforms such as Harvard’s online courses has brought down many of the barriers to education.

“I think there is a massive opportunity there. My little sister could use (a smartphone or tablet) before she could read,” Ayache said.

“One of our problems is we do not have enough teachers or they do not have the skill set we need, but there are plenty of people that do have the right skill set and we need to now connect them (to students).”

Read more at How We Made It In Africa.