South Africa

4IR strategies for Africa

Solid education foundations and critical thinking while ‘learning to speak digital’

South Africa has social grants for children, people living with disabilities, the elderly and now during the lockdown, unemployed persons, but students are left out in the cold. (Photo: Stephen Koigi / Flickr)

African leaders have held a high-level policy dialogue forum on secondary education as digitisation, automation and technological advances are transforming the work landscape.

Critical thinking, digital intelligence and innovation are just some skills African leaders say will be crucial for secondary-level education as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) strengthens. However, they are warning that inequities will intensify.

Doris Viljoen, a senior futurist at Stellenbosch University’ Institute for Futures Research said people will live in a resource-constrained economy, “therefore we need to teach critical thinking skills so that people are able to think in a critical manner about sustainability”.

We have to expand EQ and IQ to include digital fluency. Digital is a new language that all of us need.” Everybody must be digitally fluent and be comfortable speaking digital, Viljoen said.

Viljoen was addressing a high-level annual policy dialogue forum organised by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (Adea), alongside the Department of Basic Education in Johannesburg. The two-day forum brings together education ministers from around the continent, business leaders, researchers and experts to review education in Africa.

Although primary education has become relatively accessible, with the World Bank estimating that the primary gross enrolment ratio in Sub-Saharan Africa rose to 98% in 2015, social disparities threaten access to quality secondary education.

The problem is that we try to solve or catch up on our backlog and we just never get there. That is one of the things that sustains inequality. If we try to catch up on the backlog, we just reinforce the inequality all the time,” Viljoen said.

Deng Deng, South Sudan Minister for General Education and Instruction reiterated that access was essential in secondary education, before the needed skills were addressed.

The issue of access requires more attention and we have been told that one of the issues is fees.

Problem-solving ought to be one of the skills that every young person must be good in. There are problems in life, and problems in the workplace”.

Emmanuel Nnandozie, an executive secretary from the African Capacity Building Foundation in Zimbabwe, said that while policies to reform secondary education on the continent exist, implementation was lagging.

It’s not necessarily a case of not knowing what to do, the issues are that policies put in place are not implemented. Why do we have this serious implementation challenge?”

Even though there seems to be an emphasis on technical skills, President Cyril Ramaphosa — who has been a strong voice in emphasising the dawn of the 4IR — said in his opening and welcoming address that “such skills should be accompanied by soft skills such as emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills and excellent communication skills”.

Other panel discussions explored challenges that arise in the teaching workforce, curricula and pedagogy changes that impede skills development, and how technical and vocational education can be incorporated within secondary education. DM