In an increasingly online world, digital literacy is key to communicating, connecting, finding employment and accessing services.

In South Africa, where the skills gap and the digital divide converge, developing basic literacy skills and digital literacy go hand in hand in ensuring that young people are able to access opportunities and grow their potential.

This World Literacy Day, businesses delve into why digital literacy is key and how investment into tools and infrastructure can help tackle inequality.

Digital literacy to tackle the skills gap

If South Africa is to address high youth unemployment rates, it is imperative that the public and private sector work together to tackle the skills gap.

Says Vanashree Govender, Media and Communications Manager for Huawei South Africa, “When it comes to building those skills, it’s important to start with a good base. That means focusing on literacy and digital literacy in particular.

“Building digital literacy doesn’t just mean exposing children to the right platforms- it’s critical to ensure that they also have the right skills and are utilising them to their full potential.”

Govender adds, “ICT is a general-purpose skill for all people. It is a foundation for people to master disciplines such as mathematics, art, engineering, language, science, and indeed, literature.”

Recognising the need to develop both reading skills and digital literacy, Huawei launched the DigiSchool project in partnership with local operator Rain and the educational non-profit organization Click Foundation in July 2020.

The programme aims to connect more than 100 urban and rural primary schools to the internet.

In 2021 Huawei also launched the TECH4ALL Digital Schools Programme to address the four main pillars of digital education, including high-speed connections, terminals, training content, and teacher capability improvement.

It aims to help children learn languages through online learning, and  improve students’ basic ICT skills.

Future-proofing children

The United Nations notes that one of the key barriers to children’s digital literacy is the lack of teachers’ and trainers’ expertise, a shortfall when it comes to ICT infrastructure and poor connectivity.

Zoho remains keen on fostering a deep-tech ecosystem, therefore works with micro, small and medium enterprises to create digital literacy and provide skill development.

“We need to future-proof children so that they are equipped to apply for jobs that require digital and development skills,” says Andrew Bourne, Regional Manager, Africa | Zoho Corporation.

“And we can help do this by ensuring that educators have the skills to encourage children to become more digitally literate.”

The most in demand expertise and one of the most challenging to get on the South African market actually remains inside the software development field.

Software development was recently named by the Department of Home Affairs as one of South Africa’s scarce skills, with a 22% growth in this industry expected before 2030.

“With low-code platforms, citizen developers can create complex and powerful business applications without requiring costly and lengthy training.”

Most low-code application development can be managed with users who only have moderate technical knowledge.

The gateway to entrepreneurship

In order to thrive, new businesses require employees with relevant skills for the current digital age, but these critical skills can also help budding entrepreneurs launch their own businesses, and compete in this vibrant market.

“In an increasingly remote working economy, having relevant digital skills can open up new employment avenues on a global scale, in which evidence-based capability is a stronger currency than academic qualification.

“Simply having a skill is nothing if you don’t put the work in and show the world what you can do and how easily it can be done,” says Sean Riley, CEO, Ad Dynamo by Aleph.

With this in mind, Aleph has set a goal of using Digital Ad Expert to educate 50,000 digital learners worldwide with digital marketing skills, kicking off in Ghana and Nigeria.

People participating in the programme get an introduction to digital marketing, as well as modules covering strategy, analytics, and content creation. – Zambezi News