More Needs To Be Done To Connect The Unconnected SA Youth

By Kusile Mtunzi-Hairwadzi

There is an urgent need for digital literacy to take its place as a key pillar of youth education, yet access to technology remains a major stumbling block for our children. It is crucial this access gap is closed.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), a staggering 40% of the world’s population live within range of a mobile signal but aren’t able to make use of it. Digital literacy stands out as the single largest barrier to the uptake of broadband connectivity and the loss of an array of opportunities brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). A survey cited by WEF, for instance, found that almost 70% of people overall indicated they do not understand what the internet is or how to use it.

As a major player in the telecommunications industry and employer of a large workforce, MTN South Africa is committed to playing its part in providing the youth with opportunities to enhance their ICT skills and long-term career prospects. MTN also has a role to play in creating an enabling environment for innovation, entrepreneurship, skills enhancement and job creation in the digital economy. Through the MTN SA Foundation and MTN Pulse – MTN’s youth-only proposition which offers the youth access to lower data fees and opens opportunity to skills enhancement – MTN SA is directly responding to this challenge by connecting the unconnected youth.

Significant strides are being made. The GSMA’s State of the Mobile Internet Connectivity 2020 report highlights that in Sub-Saharan Africa mobile broadband coverage has seen improvements in recent years and affordable handsets have become more widely available.

Through collaboration with key government and other partners, MTN SA is on a quest to improve this situation – and it all starts with education.

In a recent report, the WEF rightly says the lack of digital skills in Africa can be addressed by investing in broadband infrastructure, partnerships and investment in digital education, access to funding and education recovery. The good news is that the technological revolution sweeping the world is beginning to have a profound impact on the continent, presenting an opportunity to “hit the reset button” and “reimagine the education landscape” by addressing the challenge of exclusion, to achieve quality education for all.

MTN SA is not standing still on driving this change and we are already connecting more of our youth to a world of digital opportunity – and opening the door to prospects for jobs in the 4IR.

Our flagship programme to create shared value in education is complemented by several carefully selected themes and interventions to help the most marginalised among us. These include digital inclusion, with a view to equipping young people, and people with disabilities, with the ICT skills they need to cope in a rapidly changing world.

Equipping young people for the future

Access to the e-learning platform of the Siyavula Foundation, is already zero-rated for all MTN customers. In addition to this, the MTN Foundation has sponsored all of South Africa’s Grade 10, 11 and 12 students, with an amount of R3 million, to have full access to the mathematics, CAT and IT as well as Physical Sciences, Natural Science and Life Science learning materials.

MTN has also zero-rated over 1 000 educational, public benefits websites (PBO) and e-learning resources. These offer learning materials, all aligned to Government curricula, for all grades and subjects.

Through the Department of Higher Education and Training, we have zero-rated public universities websites. Every university comes with multiple URLs, with some of the large universities requiring support for up to 30 URLs each. MTN has also zero-rated TVET Colleges websites, where online curricula can be made available. Currently MTN has zero-rated a number of URLs for TVET colleges.

Among the initiatives MTN Business partnered with Unisa to provide free data of 30GB for Unisa students; and also partnered with the Eastern Cape Department of Education to provide 72,000 SIM cards preloaded with data to grade 12 pupils.

 

MTN’s School Connectivity programme, meanwhile, targets basic education and tertiary education. These initiatives include schools for learners with special needs and other marginalised schools in disadvantaged communities and rural areas. Over the years, MTN has donated over 300 multimedia centres across South African schools.

Through MTN Pulse, launched in 2019 as a lifestyle plan tailor-made for the youth, we are making impressive progress in empowering the youth to grow and succeed through skills enhancement opportunities and workshops, access to connectivity, affordable data offers and relevant lifestyle benefits.

Youth unemployment is, of course, one of South Africa’s biggest challenges, and to address this, MTN Pulse continues to embark on initiatives that can help bridge the gap, one young person at a time.

In collaboration with MTN Business, MTN Pulse launched the Youth Best App Category for the MTN Business App of the Year Awards to drive innovation amongst our youth. In support of the #R10GoesALongWay initiative, MTN Pulse alongside MTN Foundation pledged R200,000 towards assisting students who are suffering financial difficulty, such as facing academic exclusion and require assistance to register to study further at university for their 2021 enrolment.   

In our experience, the youth in South Africa are talented and hungry for opportunities. They want to turn their dreams into a reality, but just aren’t provided with enough resources and opportunities. In April 2021, MTN SA launched an initiative called “The Go Show” to provide South Africans with a small business or community project with a digital makeover. To empower the youth, MTN Pulse has taken over The Go Show during June and July 2021 to provide under 25s with a digital boost for their hustle. This will enable them with tools that will enable digital connectivity, upskilling themselves and to take their hustle to the next level.

At MTN SA we believe that everyone is entitled to a modern, connected life and it is our commitment to ensure that the children of our nation are given every opportunity to thrive and benefit from the exciting digital world we live in. The alternative is that they are left behind, and as a nation, we cannot afford for this to happen.

Details on The Go Show: Pulse Takeover can be found at @MTNza on social media.

Kusile Mtunzi-Hairwadzi is a General Manager for MTN Foundation.