How the digital revolution can benefit South African youth

The digital revolution has the potential to foster rapid growth in South Africa. The arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), in particular, promises a transformation that hasn’t been realised before in the education and labour sector. 

If we’ve learnt anything from the current coronavirus pandemic from a technological perspective, it has to be the need for equal access to the current digital technologies. The COVID-19 rules were structured in a way that forced the working force and students across the national scale to transition from the physical work and school spaces to engage in their daily operations through digital spaces. 

However, due to the digital divide that exists within the country, this has been an impossible feat for many South Africans. Until digitalisation is properly implemented and harnessed, its benefits for SA youth and the economy will remain inaccessible. 

What is a digital revolution?

Digital revolution refers to the use of digital technologies and digitised data to improve the processes of socio-economic systems. These disruptive technologies have fundamentally changed daily operations and how people communicate and navigate daily life. 

How does it benefit the South African youth?

The youth is increasingly engaging with digital technologies and digital media. This creates a window of opportunities to change their lives in meaningful ways.

Digitised education

Due to the availability of digital technologies, traditional forms of learning have been revolutionised in a way that allows students to learn from the comfort of their homes. This means that they also have access to any type of data they need, whenever they need it, removing the constraints of time and space. 

Digital skills to drive employment

Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) reported that South Africa’s youth (15-34 years) unemployment rate reached 46,3% in the first three months of 2021. The future of work is digital; however, digital literacy in South Africa is limping. Getting training in digital skills will allow the youth to take control of their lives and create their own jobs. Therefore, the digital revolution is the best tool for tackling youth unemployment.

Benefit from economic growth

Digital technologies such as automation and robotisation are considerably increasing productivity for businesses. This means the delivery of services and products is fast-tracked, which positively impacts the digital economy. 

The growth of the economy results in various opportunities for all citizens. In this case, one of the key economic benefits of the digital revolution is job creation.

Digital revolution bottlenecks

The digital revolution can only be of benefit if it has a robust digital ecosystem. For this ecosystem to exist, there has to be digital infrastructure. But digital infrastructure can only be built if there is funding available. 

This is where we, as the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), come in. We have an integrated approach to infrastructure development. The approach is designed in a way that ensures an impactful delivery of development finance solutions that will help push digital transformation in South Africa. We do this by engaging public and private stakeholders for project funding to be channelled towards the development of digital infrastructure from implementation to completion. 

For example, we have thus far facilitated projects that have resulted in a significant expansion of connectivity infrastructure across the SADC region, augmented by the undersea cables that connect Africa with the rest of the world. Particularly, four connectivity corridors, namely, Africa-Europe, Africa-Latin America-US, Africa-Asia and African-region. This global connectivity has, in turn, stimulated opportunities to address the gaps in the access network, the so-called last-mile infrastructure.

Final thoughts

The digital revolution is a disruptive shift, where artificial intelligence (AI), automation, demographic changes, globalisation and social developments are transforming every socio-economic system. While it is unfamiliar territory for emerging economies lagging in terms of implementation, it is a useful tool to take advantage of. Particularly for the youth, who are in desperate need of liberation from the education and labour challenges they face.