Is South Africa ready for digital education?

Out of South Africa’s 413,067 teachers, only 132,884 have been trained in basic computer skills and ICT equipment by 2011.

This is according to findings in the Via Afrika Snapshot of eLearning in South African schools report, which charts the challenges – and opportunities – for digital education in South Africa.

According to the report, South Africa’s readiness for e-learning is still hampered by a lack of skills and infrastructure – however schools and teachers remain optimistic and willing to bring ICT into the classrooms.

“The research was conducted using a questionnaire distributed to ICT officials across all nine provincial education departments and augmented with secondary sources,” said Via Afrika Group content manager, Micheal Goodman.

The survey results showed a number of worrying statistics, including that six of the nine provinces in South Africa do not feel ready for ICT schooling and that a small percentage of schools in every province, except the Western Cape, sit without access to electricity.

27% of schools in Kwa-Zulu Natal are without electricity; while 8% of schools in the Eastern Cape do not have appropriate buildings to host classes. Further, the group found that only 32% of teachers are trained to deal with ICT.

However, it’s not all bad news: a large percentage of schools surveyed strongly supported the use of ICT in education – despite not feeling ready for it – and actively promote it in schooling.

Further, the report pointed to a direct push from government to facilitate e-learning across the country.

“There are a minimum of six different governmental policy papers on implementing e-learning in education, available to the provinces,” Via Afrika said.

“All provinces are running a minimum of three strategies concurrently, with one running five.”

The report is the first of what will be an annual undertaking by Via Afrika, which said that, while limited, the study marks an important starting point from which to build a knowledge base on an annual basis in the field.

The group also pointed to a gap in the e-book market, which presented an opportunity for growth.

In 2012, of the more than R2 billion total educational turnover of educational publishers in South Africa, only R277,000 went to e-book turnover, Via Afrika said.

However, according to PwC’s entertainment and media outlook 2013 – 2017, there is a marked decline in both physical entertainment and educational book sales in South Africa, while digital content faces slow uptake.

In its report, PwC said that, while a number of local e-commerce services have become established in South Africa that sell both physical and e-books online, the cost of e-readers and bandwidth constraints make the downloading of books difficult in some areas.

The consumer and educational book market as a whole has fallen from R4.1 billion in 2008 to R3.6 billion in 2012 – however, this is expected to increase slightly to R3.7 billion by 2017.

The consumer book market is forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.5% to reach R1.6 billion in 2017, up from R1.4 billion in 2012, PwC said.

However, the educational book market is expected to fall by a negative CAGR of 1.1% to R2.1 billion in 2017 – down from R2.8 billion in 2008.

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Is South Africa ready for digital education?