At the beginning of 2021, South Africa recorded a digital population of 38.13 million. Statista also noted that an overwhelming majority (over 36 million) used mobile internet. While these figures paint a good picture that South Africa is highly connected, the question still remains on whether or not it is working to the advantage of the youth’s empowerment.
Alana Bond Co-Founder of Youth development lab, Lucha Lunako says, “There is still a wide disparity on the continent when it comes to internet connectivity, especially in places such as South Africa or Kenya where technology-enablement can decrease the development gaps between the haves and have-nots: bridging the digital divide is of paramount importance to youth empowerment.”
In South Africa, the digital divide has led to numerous disadvantages to those without internet connectivity, including higher incidents of grade repetitions and dropouts, especially within the time of the Coronavirus pandemic that has led to lockdowns and a need for remote online learning.
This is a global problem with a recent joint report from UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) asserting that two thirds of the world’s school-age children (around 1.3 billion) who are between the ages of 3 and 17 years old, do not have internet connectivity at home, with most of these children being located across Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
“Beyond facilitating remote learning, internet connectivity is also essential for accessing job opportunities as youths form WhatsApp groups with friends to share employment opportunities, have their CV’s and application letters on hand on their personal mobile devices to be able to apply, and need to create and update pages such as LinkedIn profiles,” explains Bond.
There are many hurdles to increasing access to the internet, a few of which include low digital literacy, lacking internet-capable mobile devices like laptops, tablets, and smartphones, as well as the price of data. The latter is quite impactful since the median price for a gigabyte (1GB) of mobile data during 2020 across Africa was over $5, when compared to $3.5 per gig in the European Union in 2020 for example.
“Private companies can play a major role in growing the number of internet-connected households and educational institutions across the continent., The figure of only 29% of Africans being connected to the internet can be decreased if private companies were more visible and participatory, because of the opportunities for self-development, job applications, and education that accessing and using the internet affords the youth,” adds Bond.
For example, Google and Microsoft are employing television white space (TVWS) technology to bring high-speed, reliable and very affordable internet access to rural locations across South Africa for places such as community clinics, public primary schools and high schools. Ruckus Wireless’s also aims to bring free internet access to the underserved parts of South Africa and Southern Africa using Wi-Fi technology through its Project Isizwe.
“The internet has, along with the freely accessible information and communication technologies that it enables, allowed for a vast amount of opportunity for people to enhance their development and prospect for improvement. If access to the internet is not increased, those benefits cannot be unlocked by the people and youth who need them most, especially those who form the bulk of the joblessness and discouraged job-seekers profiles in,” concludes Bond.