Digital Efforts Needed To Close SA's Adult Education Gap



As we near the end of Human Rights Month in South Africa, Optimi Workplace would like to shine a spotlight on the progress we've made as a country in the education space. In particular, focusing on the adults of SA who have not received the quality education needed to gain sustainable employment. 



When we think about the human right to education, we often think about it as relating to children. We imagine children starting their school career at a young age and being supported as they progress through the years. Ultimately emerging from the system as young adults who have the capacity either to study further or to find employment. This is their right. It’s enshrined in the Constitution.

The Constitution, however, clearly stipulates another demographic that is entitled to education: its adult population. “Everyone has the right to a basic education,” Section 29(1) stipulates, “including adult basic education.”

Many of these adults live with the effects of our apartheid legacy — opportunity was denied to them by law. But even those who started and completed their education in the almost 30 years since we became a democracy often don’t have the skills and qualifications they need to progress academically or professionally. The right to education remains in theory, but there is a gap that needs to be bridged in practice.

That bridge is made of many things, but among the most important are technology and private sector involvement.

How technology is transforming traditional education

Education isn’t what it used to be — quite literally. If you’re familiar with the ways in which education has been redefined in recent years, the idea of students sitting at desks, pens in hand, listening to a teacher expounding facts from the front, seems almost quaint. While many of us were taught this way and still think of education within these parameters, the reality is fast becoming something quite different.

Across disciplines, an increasing reliance on digital innovation is transforming the way we do things. Education is no different. Although they existed before the pandemic, hybrid and online learning courses sprouted like mushrooms during the height of the lockdowns, and have thrived since. The benefits were immediately apparent to adults seeking to improve their levels of education, and corporates endeavouring to upskill their employees.

Digital courses have helped to level the playing field in terms of access, and with more available than ever before, students and employers have been able to select those that suit them best. While infrastructure challenges persist, particularly in terms of the exorbitant cost of data, even these have been overcome to some extent. Providers such as Optimi Workplace, for example, have made their modules available offline so that students aren’t draining their bank accounts while they learn.

Technology has helped to ensure that the right to education, and the right to adult education, is realised in an approach that has been welcomed by the private sector.

The role that corporates have to play

A matric is still a minimum barrier to entry for almost any South African seeking to enter the workforce, and ideally, further qualifications are required. With so many adults lacking these qualifications and the critical skills they represent, some of the responsibility — and indeed the opportunity — for bridging this gap falls to the private sector.

Employers have recognised that workplace training and community education helps to right past injustices and support those who failed to qualify first time. It also offers several material advantages. 

Incorporating training and development into your CSI programme offers points in terms of the B-BBEE Scorecard, for example, as well as tax incentives. More importantly, it helps to nurture a skilled, motivated and loyal workforce. Invest in your employees and they’re likely to invest in you.

Learnerships help employees to enhance their skills and knowledge and improve their prospects. More broadly, it plays a role in decreasing unemployment, alleviating poverty, and creating a better standard of living for more South Africans. It helps to truly bring the human right to education to life. It starts to impact many other important human rights besides. 

Although there are many ways in which adult education and training plays out in the workplace, one of the most valuable executions lies in technology. By providing employees with the digital tools, skills and support necessary to study remotely, companies make their students’ learning process flexible and independent, and more likely to succeed.

This is not to suggest that it’s the only way — in-person and hybrid models are also effective. But where technology and corporate intervention intersect allows for meaningful education and training that might yet transform the futures of adult South Africans seeking a second chance. 

By Phemelo Segoe

Phemelo Segoe is an education specialist and Marketing Manager at Optimi Workplace, a division of the Optimi Group, one of South Africa’s leading names in the education and training industry.

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