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 2018, 64,7% 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. Internet access was highest in Gauteng (74,6%), the Western Cape (72,4%) and Mpumalanga (70,2%), and lowest in Limpopo (46,2%) and the Eastern Cape (55,3%).
A little over one-tenth (10,4%) of South African households had access to the internet at home (compared to around 50% in developed countries), with the figure highest in the Western Cape (25,8%) and Gauteng (16,7%), and lowest in Limpopo (1,7%) and North West (0,8%). Some 17,3% of households in metropolitan areas had access to the internet at home, while only 1.7% of rural households in general and less than 1% of households in the North West (0,8%) and Limpopo (0,6%) had access.
Globally, South Africa’s internet penetration reached 51% by January 2018.
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.