The success of any higher education system is intricately linked to the ICT capabilities within that system. Deputy Minister of High Education Prof Hlengiwe Mkhize talks about the infrastructural, networking and costing challenges of improving ICT as government strives to bring education to the doorstep of every South African citizen.
In a recent radio interview Prof. Mkhize reported on the Southern African ICT for Education Summit 2012 which brought together ministers of higher education with the purpose of exploring different views in ICT education.
"Access to education is particularly challenging for South Africans who are poor, reside in townships or are disabled?, she said.
Despite the fact that "government has prioritised these vulnerable groups?, barriers to education remain.
The ICT summit provided a platform to introduce new technologies, suggest solutions and present new ideas about how to achieve access to education through ICT.
One technological tool called the Tablet PC is being considered as an option to making education more accessible. According to Prof. Mkhize these Tablets are now more widely used across the globe. The function to load the syllabus onto the gadgets makes it an especially appealing option.
Whether this technology is viable for South Africa remains to be seen. Network capacity, broadband availability and wiring particularly in rural areas are some of the impediments to adopting this kind of technology in the classroom.
The solution to access is therefore twofold, and "does not only reside in education'. According to the Deputy Minister South Africa requires the necessary infrastructure to support ICT upgrades before it can embark on improving ICT education.
Issues such as network coverage and even the more basic requirements of electricity are obstacles to transformation, but the ICT summit revealed solar powered technological tools as an alternative.
Government is now in the process of investigating the feasibility of the various innovations, says Prof. Mkhize and the R886 million investments into the South African National Research and Education Network forms part of that process.
But these new technologies don?t come cheap.
Private colleges are better positioned and financed to take advantage of the latest technologies, but educational funding entities such as NSFAS will not be able to cope with the strain says Prof. Mkhize.
Then there is the added challenge of training and empowering educators to operate new digital tools. This is in itself a massive task as most educators "came through a system where they didn?t have a computer', she says.
With so many barriers to ICT education government admits that it cannot transform the sector alone. "We cannot achieve equal access to education without the cooperation of the private sector.'
Prof. Mkhize highlighted the phenomenal support received from the private sector during the educational outreach projects conducted by government. According to the Deputy Minister the private sector has shown a real interest and commitment to improving ICT education.
By Cindy Payle