Bridging the proverbial digital divide is one of the biggest challenges facing South Africa as it tries to harness technology to drive and implement policies as well as deliver services.
Communities located on the fringes of the urban areas and those in the rural areas continue lag behind their urban counterparts in terms of access to the range of the latest technologies and innovations.
On the education front there are also “learning digital divides” and this became more apparent during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic when schooling in the townships ground to a complete halt while learning in the affluent areas continued as they were able to teach remotely and also use other online platforms.
In an attempt to address and contribute toward narrowing this digital divide and to create a pipeline of IT skilled youth, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and Accenture have partnered to set up a skills development project in under-developed communities around Devland Extension 1 near Soweto, south of Johannesburg.
Hailed as one of the most exciting developments in education, the project is known as the Advanced Technology Centre, (ATC) and will comprise a modern building with state-of-the-art spaces.
The property and buildings are to be used for the establishment of a centre for the advancement of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) for the benefit of the youth and the community.
The ATC will also offer support in related fields that including adult education. Other stakeholders who support and promote STEAM will be brought in to be part of the project.
According to the statement from both parties, the collaboration is inspired by the fact that both UJ and Accenture “have aspirational goals and a vision for addressing unemployment, imparting digital skills of the future, and contributing towards the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) in South Africa”.
The initiative is also part of the two organisations’ drive to develop an innovative business model and new ways of working for the skills required for Africa’s digital acceleration.
The two parties plan to train 130 youth in 2021, growing to 300 by 2024. Upon completion of the relevant course with UJ and the Advanced Youth Centre, the graduates will have the opportunity for placement within Accenture’s partners or client networks.
“As one of the country’s digital accelerators, we are witnessing resurgence in demand for custom, bespoke digital skills within larger enterprises,” said Vukani Mngxati, CEO for Accenture in Africa.
He added: “This demand places an additional strain on the country’s already limited pool of qualified and experienced professionals, whom Accenture also needs for its own projects with clients. It’s vital that we develop adaptable and transferable skills that prepare youth for the dynamic workplace of the future and remain applicable as jobs and industries evolve.”
His counterpart, Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, UJ’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal said: “This project is rooted in UJ’s mission to inspire its communities to transform and serve humanity through innovation and the collaborative pursuit of knowledge.
This is not just one of the most exciting developments in education but also exemplifies the University of Johannesburg’s drive to enable the convergence of digital and physical technology. The project will nurture community ‘netpreneurship’ (cyber-based entrepreneurship) by offering programmes aligned to the fourth industrial revolution.”
Professor Marwala added that the project is deeply rooted in the UJ’s drive to address the country’s economic inequalities and to bridge the gap in digital technologies, as underpinned by agility in the 4IR space.