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The Nelson Mandela University has steadily stayed the course in digital transformation. Plans are afoot to seize opportunities presented through technology right across the institution. This enterprise is multifaceted, complex and fraught with risk. The journey to digitalisation is far-reaching and affects entire organisations.

Digital access and skills are key elements in any organisation’s digital transformation matrix.

An increase in the use of technology by the banks was cited as the main reason for job losses reported from the SA banking sector recently.

Other sectors, such as higher education, are not immune to the effects of technology, especially in the context of a labour force that has relatively poor digital skills.

The UN has placed the matter of digital inclusion on its global agenda and laments that “many people are excluded from the new world of data and information by language, poverty, lack of education, lack of technology infrastructure, remoteness or prejudice and discrimination”.

The 2019 annual Goalkeepers report by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation examines inequality and highlights the role of digital inclusion in empowering individuals and communities.

This report underscores the findings of the latest International Labour Organisation (ILO) study on promoting pathways to decent work.

In its study, the ILO study recommends an integrated approach including the adoption of enabling innovative policies in the provision of decent work in a fast-changing world of work.

Whether viewed as a suggested fifth Kondratiev wave or the hyped fourth Industrial Revolution as critiqued by Alison Gilward the implications of information technology at individual, organisational and societal levels stare at us as hideously as Medusa’s face.

Undoubtedly, digital fluency is an imperative life skill in the 21st century.

NMU’s strategy to extirpate the digital divide is broad and multifaceted.

The university is empowering non-office bound staff with digital mobile devices.

About 900 staff will benefit from this initiative that is geared towards improving efficiency and increased productivity.

Through this scheme, staff who until now had no or limited access to the institution’s communication platforms can access e-mail and the internet.

A sizeable cohort of employees, mainly service workers, is enrolled in various programmes aimed at improving their skills and academic credentials.

Therefore, access to the university’s digital learning resources could not have come at a better time.

Students are a key customer in higher education and the university has intensified its efforts to address digital exclusion.

Early in 2019, almost 3,000 laptop computers were issued to first-year students funded by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.

In addition, the ongoing expansion of the university’s connectivity footprint for the benefit of students in off-campus accommodation has radically extended the frontiers of digital access.

So far an estimated 5 500 students are enjoying unfettered Wi-Fi access off-campus.

As expected, the beneficiaries of the university’s efforts in this respect both staff and students have exuberantly echoed the words of the tragic hero in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, saying: “I cannot live on the bank of the river and wash my hands with spittle”.

The university’s vast repository of online learning material, as well as access to the web, should be accessible to everyone at any time and from anywhere.

In my view, institutions of higher learning can play a pivotal role in tackling digital inequality within and beyond their precincts.

Partnerships and collaboration with other role players, such as government and business, are key in garnering the requisite momentum to narrow and eventually eliminate digital exclusion in all its forms.

This article appeaared in the Weekend Post (South Africa) on 9 November 2019 written by Dr Samuel Bosire, Chief Information Officer, Nelson Mandela University


Contact information
Dr Samuel Bosire
Chief Information Officer
Tel: 27 41 504 9916