Deputy Minister: Dr. Makgabo Reginah Mhaule
CEOs of Corporate South Africa
Representatives of Organisations of People Living with Disabilities
Our Partners in Basic Education
National and Provincial Department Senior Officials Present
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my honour and privilege to address all our honoured guests, captains of telecommunications industry, and our special guests from the people living with disabilities’ fraternity.
In his inaugural address to the 7th World Telecommunications Conference and Exhibition held in Geneva (1995), our late icon and founding father, Nelson Mandela urged the tech giants not to leave us behind.
Mandela impressed upon the world tech heavyweights that it was incumbent upon them to work with the governments, ‘to eliminate the distinction between information rich and information poor countries.’
Madiba said the Information Communications Technologies (ICTs) must be seen as an enabler, ‘to eliminating economic and other inequalities and, to improving the quality of life of all humanity.’
In short, ICTs shouldn’t be just fancy gadgets for the rich to play with but should instead form the basic architecture of improving people’s lives in the 21st century thus enabling all our people to reach their full potential.
ICTs defines the Fourth Industrial Revolution, just like the railway did for the first, electricity for the second and automation was to the third revolution.
It is within this context that we converge here today to have this Roundtable on the ICT Resourcing of Special Schools, so as to take the Mandela message to fruition, albeit 24 years later.
Our mission is to eliminate the distinction between the information rich schools and information poor schools.
The distinction occurred for many reasons but two shall suffice– firstly it is as a result of the worst man-made political disaster of the 20th century, namely apartheid.
Secondly, our country’s inability to harness the productive capacity of all our people post the Mandela euphoria.
I won’t mention the third, the now legendary ‘nine wasted years.’
Today’s event comes at a more opportune moment as we are currently observing the Disability Rights Awareness Month.
This campaign aims to raise awareness about the harmful effects of stigmatisation, prejudice and stereotypes have on the disability sector.
Programme Director, this Roundtable also occurs on the same week when it is raining investments in South Africa.
President Ramaphosa raised some 363 billion rands worth of investments at the second Investment Conference that ended yesterday.
We may have arrived at the 2nd Ramaphoria phase if some progressives in the commentariat are to be believed.
The recent downpour of investment pledges has eclipsed the recent negative sentiments arising from Moody's Investors Service lowering of the country’s outlook from positive to negative.
Rightly so, the President has described this change in our fortunes as a clear vote of confidence in the South African economy.
Some have a very simple explanation for our changing fortunes, they shout ‘the Bokke’ did it again. This follows our boy’s sensational victory against the English to snatch the Rugby World Cup for the third time.
The Springboks led by the indomitable Siya Kolisi have done for our country what the pioneering team of 1995 led by Francois Pienaar did for our infant democracy.
Thus, it is my sincere hope that the captains of industry present here today, in this Roundtable, are ready to make pledges beyond the Universal Service and Access Obligations (USAO) imposed targets to roll-out ICTs in the basic Education sector.
At the political level, the issue of people living with disabilities has received a shot in the arm from the highest office in the land.
In his recent response to the debate on the February State of the Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government’s Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) for the years 2019-2024 should mainstream the empowerment and support to people with disabilities across all government departments and programmes.
I am delighted to report that yes, indeed, the Medium Term Strategic Framework has been concluded and gives expression to the President’s commitment.
We are also happy that the Presidential Working Group on Disability has been revived.
It is thus a step in the right direction that today, we meet to dialogue on the ICT Resourcing of Special Schools as a first major step towards mainstreaming the issue of disability and unlocking resource scarcity.
One of the priorities of the fraternity of people living with disability is the need for, ‘Children and young people with disabilities to be empowered to chart their own destiny through access to quality lifelong learning.’
In our view, the ICTs are the real game changer, not just to narrow the proverbial, ‘digital divide’ but, ‘to enable the disabled.’
Only ICTs have the ability to break the barriers of learners with disabilities by providing them with, ‘a voice, independence and autonomy.’
I am encouraged that our telecommunications giants are again playing a more meaningful in the social well-being of the poor, the marginalised and disabled.
It’s a sign of growing confidence in our economy, and country after years of policy uncertainty, and general inertia.
It’s time we pulled together again. South Africa deserves no less.
Programme Director, a great deal of progress has been registered since, the Independent Authority of South Africa (ICASA) published the amended Universal Service and Access Obligations (USAO) that were imposed on all the Network Operators since March 2014.
It is pleasing to note that all Network Operators have through the Universal Service and Access Obligations (USAO) project registered great strides reaching all 4 490 mainstream schools.
The second leg is to resource all 447 Special Schools allocated to them with fit for purpose ICT equipment hence our dialogue today.
For this to happen we need our Network Operators to come to the party. I am told that assessments and planning logistics are at an advanced levels in some provinces by some operators.
Today’s dialogue must be understood within the overall new energy, positivity and new priorities of the new administration following the May general elections.
We, as the Basic Education Department, have 11 priorities, the cardinal pillars if you like.
Priority number 5 calls upon us to eliminate the proverbial digital divide by ensuring that within six years, all schools and education offices have access to internet and free data.
To realise this ambitious target, work has begun in earnest.
By the end of 2019, we will complete and digitise CAT and IT Grade 10 -12 state-owned textbooks (high enrolment subjects).
We are assessing 10% of the Special schools for connectivity and ICT infrastructure deployment.
We are assessing a further 10% of the Special schools for connectivity and ICT infrastructure deployment, and will provide 100 schools with e-Library solution, before the end of this year.
From 2021 onwards, we are looking forward to gradually increase from 34 available titles of the number of workbooks in interactive format.
It is envisaged that making availability of the workbooks in the interactive format will have cost saving in printing and distribution as the interactive workbooks will be available on gadgets as part of learning and teaching materials.
The aim is to leverage on ICTs in order to reduce the cost of providing Learner Teacher Support Materials (LTSM) to learners.
At the heart of our endeavours is to equip all our learners with the requisite 21st Century skills so that they too can take advantage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
This places a huge demand on the availability and quality of internet connectivity at schools.
It is for this reason that we have decided to harness the expertise and capacity of all Network Operators to partner with us as we march to 2030.
The National Development Plan (NDP) states that ICTs are seen as an enabler with the potential to speed up delivery, support analysis, build intelligence and create new ways to share information, learn and engage. The NDP says by 2030:
- ICT will underpin the development of a dynamic and connected information society and a vibrant knowledge economy that is more inclusive and prosperous.
- A seamless information infrastructure will be universally available and accessible to all.
We have created an ICT master plan through the Presidential Operation Phakisa programme.
The Operation Phakisa ICT interventions are focusing on providing an end-to-end ICT solution to schools.
This will be done through digital content development and distribution using offline and online platforms, provision of connectivity, hardware, teacher professional development and e-Administration systems.
This will ensure that teaching and learning experiences match the needs of the changing world.
This approach is supported by our assertion that, ‘greater use of technology, backed by high-speed broadband, could open new opportunities’ for both teachers and learners.
Currently, the level of connectivity at our schools stands at about 70.6% of which the majority is 3G (Non-broadband) that is only adequate for conducting administrative functions but not teaching and learning.
Broadband connectivity is mainly available in Gauteng, Western Cape and a few public schools in other provinces.
Only 373 schools have received broadband connectivity through SA Connect, which is government's project of delivering widespread broadband access.
Unfortunately only 10% of the 373 schools currently have internet access activated.
We are aware that our ability to adopt and leverage on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies in delivering quality educational outcomes for the changing world is dependent on the availability of broadband connectivity.
We note with appreciation that President Ramaphosa is seized with this matter. As we know the communications regulator (ICASA) has commenced with the process of high-demand spectrum licensing.
The high-demand spectrum moves to tackle the high cost of data. #DataMustFall.
The high cost of communication in SA has largely been blamed on a lack of competition and the ‘spectrum crunch.’
Furthermore, policy uncertainty in this area has also robbed our country of significant investments, and lowered confidence in our economy. Well, the past is now truly behind us.
In conclusion, we also acknowledge and appreciate the tremendous work done through Corporate Social Investments (CSI) programmes and various Foundations in the area of resourcing schools with ICTs.
We appreciate the work of Schools Connectivity, Mobile Education and Connected Schools that have already impacted positively to thousands of learners both in mainstream and Specials Needs Schools.
Finally, I must be the first one to say challenges in servicing optimally leaners with disabilities are immense.
Yet, we must work without ceasing to bring this category of learners into the mainstream of basic education.
Working together with you, let’s build a South Africa of our dreams. Let’s grow South Africa Together, Faster (Khawuleza). Always stronger together.
I thank you.