In an address to parliament President Cyril Ramaphosa said that we need to recognize that the present was a creation of the past and if the past should teach us anything, it’s that the way we were doing things 10 years ago is not the way we are doing it at present and won’t be the way we will be doing it in the future.  Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga, recently announced that her department will receive a report on whether history should be made a compulsory subject in schools in the country. The department announced its plans to implement a new history curriculum at schools over the next seven years, which could see the subject becoming compulsory for grades 10 to 12.

While the importance of teaching learners about the history of their country could never be understated, there is one area of learning that the Department of Basic Education should be focusing on as a priority to avoid our history of inequality from repeating itself and that is by making computer learning accessible to every learner in the country. Unfortunately, in 2018, there are still thousands of public high schools that do not have a fully functional computer lab. This means that the subjects Computer Applications Technology (CAT) and IT cannot be taught as part of the school’s curriculum. The effect of this, is that thousands of learner’s matriculate on an annual basis with no basic computer literacy skills making their chances of employment slimmer than they already are in a country plagued by youth unemployment. In this digital age, all applications, whether it is for employment or a tertiary institution, is expected to be made online. If learners don’t know the basics like how to switch on and work on a computer they are disadvantaged already.

CAT teacher at Zitikeni Secondary in Tembisa, Mr. Khutso Mothoa gave an account of his experience of sitting in a computer lab at college and having to type an assignment that took his peers 30 minutes but because of his lack of exposure to a computer, took him 3 hours to complete. He said he passed all his subjects except those that had anything to do with computers. Despite Mothoa’s complete lack of basic computer skills, he persevered and ultimately returned to the school he had attended as a teacher to teach the learners CAT. Unfortunately, because the school did not have a fully functional computer lab as per the Department of Basic Education’s requirements, the subject could not form part of the curriculum and Mothoa was reassigned to teach a different subject until a computer lab was sponsored to the school in 2013.

The experience illustrated by Mothoa is sadly the experience of millions of matriculants two decades after his own. It should be unfathomable in a digital age and with the advent of the 4th Industrial Revolution, that there are still learners who don’t know how to use a computer. It also puts South Africa on the back foot globally especially against countries like Korea, where computer literacy is compulsory from primary school. The fact that basic computer literacy is not a compulsory subject at least from Grade 10-12 in South African public schools is debilitating and further disadvantaging the most vulnerable people in our country – the poor.

Learners coming out of high school cannot be expected to learn how to use a computer for the first time in employment or at tertiary institutions. There will be a serious kink in the Minister of Higher Education and Training’s plans to gear institutions of higher learning towards offering careers in line with the 4th Industrial Revolution if learners have not been prepared for them in basic education. While the Minister’s intent should be applauded, we cannot afford to make the same mistake that is being made with mathematics and science where learners are not adequately trained in the subjects and therefore cannot take advantage of careers that require them.

For the South African economy to work and the inequality gap to be closed the right foundations need to be in place. That foundation starts with providing the right education for the right opportunities and careers. Without it our youth will continue to exist in a state of hopelessness being unemployed or as workers who can only earn the minimum wage in menial jobs that offer no future prospects and no significant income potential.