Just how large is the digital divide in South Africa?
Digital literacy is a challenge for both learners and teachers, many of whom come from a background in which they have little to no exposure or access to the digital world. Digital exclusion tends to reinforce social exclusion, which is reflected in low income, unemployment, and poor education.
The path from digital literacy to confident digital citizenship requires intervention – without the latter, full economic participation is unlikely. Low digital literacy and a lack of internet-enabled devices are the main barriers to online participation.
According to Statistics SA’s General Household Survey of 2019, 63% of South African households had at least one member who had access to, or used the Internet either at home, work, place of study or internet cafés. Access to the Internet using all available means was highest in Gauteng (74,2%), Western Cape (73,8%) and Mpumalanga (67,4%), and lowest in Limpopo (43,0%) and Eastern Cape (52,5%). Less than one-tenth (9,1%) of South African households had access to the Internet at home. Access to the Internet at home was highest among households in Western Cape (21,7%) and Gauteng (14,9%), and lowest in Limpopo (1,6%) and North West (2,3%).
As of January 2021, internet penetration in South Africa stood at 64%, with 38.19 million internet users. The number of internet users increased by 1.7 million between 2020 and 2021. However, it is worrying that some 35% of South Africans do not believe the internet is relevant to them, which shows a gap in understanding the world in which they live.
How does ICT support South Africa’s 4IR goals?
The world is on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), but what does this mean for South Africa, one of the most unequal societies in the world?
In 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa asserted that opportunities offered by the digital revolution would help to improve education outcomes and bring about job creation According to the Department of Education (DE), the major goal of including ICT in education is to deliver on public expectations of quality education for economic growth and social development.
ICT is linked to economic and social development and is therefore central to reducing poverty and inequality. It has been estimated that digital transformation can unlock around R5 trillion of value in SA during the next decade, according to Wayne Hull, MD of Accenture Digital.
However, the reality is that historically disadvantaged South Africans have few opportunities for digital inclusion. Access to affordable, quality internet coverage is unevenly distributed in SA, with lower-income learners struggling to acquire basic digital literacy. In addition, the country’s 7.5 million lower-income earners are paying 80 times more for internet access than their better-off counterparts. Poor infrastructure is another issue – only 10% of SA homes have fixed affordable internet, according to Dudu Mkhwanazi, CEO of Project Isizwe. The World Bank has pointed out that a 10-percentage-point increase in fixed broadband penetration increases GDP growth by 1.38% in developing economies. There is clearly a wide gap between our ICT goals and our ability to implement them.
South Africa’s National Development Plan 2030 proposes that school infrastructure be improved so that full access to high-speed broadband can be leveraged.