Future of Technology in South Africa

It is worrying that the future of Technology in South Africa doesn’t reflect the country’s demographics, furthermore in the foreword of the Annual National Assesment (ANA) 2012 report, South Africa’s Basic Education Minister, Mrs. Angie Motshekga says:

“It is my proud privilege to announce the performance of learners who wrote the Annual National Assessment during the week of 18–21 September 2012.”

There is nothing to be proud of, especially as far as the Mathematics results are concerned.

The Minister says she uses ANA as a “strategic tool for monitoring and improving the level and quality of basic education, with a special focus on the foundational skills of Literacy and Numeracy.”

It is Numeracy skills, along with Science and Problem Solving skills, taught at a younger age that have a bearing on how South Africa’s technology sector will perform in the future.

Also, these have a direct impact on the social demographic makeup of the technology industry in the future in South Africa.

Currently, without beating about the bush, South Africa’s technology sector is pale and male.
Whether it is professionals working in corporate South Africa or the technology startup scene.

To this effect, the recent community survey (2012) by The Silicon Cape Initiative alludes to the same, i.e. a bulk of their members are male and happen to have less melanin than the majority of the South African population.

Before looking into the future, let’s look at the present education system and why it is important that darker skinned South African’s form a significant part of the technology skills pool and technology startup pool.

Pattern of Consistently Deteriorating Performance

The ANA was written by 24,000 public schools (as per 2012 report), including special schools and state-funded independent primary schools in South Africa. In these schools, the learners in Grades 1 to 6 and Grade 9 are required to write it resulting in excess of 7 million learners participating.

The vast majority of these schools are in South Africa’s townships and attended by black learners. As such, the ANA is a relatively good determiner of government’s involvement in improving basic education, especially Numeracy skills.

On this note too, the government must be commended on conducting such an annual test and making the results, no matter how poor they are, public. As far as ANA Numeracy test results go, there is an interesting pattern, but first a table of the 2012 Numeracy results:

Table of the ANA 2012 Numeracy results

There is a consistent annual decrease in test results performance as the grade increases, with the worst, despicable and rather embarrassing performance being seen by Grade 9 learners. These are learners in the 14 – 16 year old age group. There are many theories, in the absence of the relevant data or access to it, as to why this is so.

The first could be that the quality of earlier numeracy education is poor and not sufficient in preparing the learners for more complex numeracy skills in future grades. The other theory could be that of culture, with some boys being considered (especially Grade 9) old enough to herd or take care of the family by earning a living thus not having enough time for studies.

Also, teenage pregnancy, amongst the black South African population, is common at this Grade 9 age group. The other reason is a societal one brought about by the scourge of HIV and AIDS leading to many orphans and child-headed households. Thus, the current basic education and societal issues give us a rather good indication of which type of learners will be in a position to qualify for technology related studies both in high-school and post high school.

Pale and Male

As stated earlier, the bulk of IT professionals and technology startup companies currently in South Africa are pale and male.

This is not just a case as far as the Western Cape is concerned but is prevalent among all provinces in South Africa. The same observation was made by Erik Hersman on his blog when comparing South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya’s technology startup scenes.

Hersman wrote

“Second, In Kenya and Nigeria the founders of startups tend to look a lot like a cross section of the country’s population. The tech community in South Africa doesn’t look a lot like the racial makeup of the country. to put it bluntly, I rarely see a black South African tech entrepreneur.”

In other words, the majority of tech entrepreneurs in South Africa are white.

We can debate why the present is such and point fingers to Apartheid with its bantu education etc. but we need to also note that the present government’s Black Economic Empowerment and Affirmative Action initiatives have also done little to re-dress this, in fact they have created a bourgeoisie without even addressing the core issue at the heart of the technology industry’s problem: Basic Education.

Start Them Young

The main issue especially as far as the Technology Startup Scene is concerned and noted by Hersman and another West African Technology commentator and entrepreneur, Victor Asemota, is that;

It is difficult to develop technology solutions for a community you are not a member of nor live amongst.

Now imagine if black learners from a young age are equipped with numeracy, science and problem solving skills, how many societal problems could they solve using technology just like their counterparts accross the continent?

Technology Education starts at Grade 0 with numeracy skills, because a learner who enjoys and excels at the subject from an early age is likely to continue with it further in life.

This is where resources by the Basic Education Ministry need to be concentrated, and not on Grade 12 results.

Unless we do something about it, the future (like the present) of technology in South Africa is pale and male.

Cover Image Credit: Haldane Martin

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