Bridging digital divide as SA grapples pandemic

Huawei Vice-President for Southern Africa, David Chen

Huawei Vice-President for Southern Africa, David Chen

JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) THE coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, and subsequent lockdown, brings into focus the importance of universal broadband in South Africa.

The availability would address barriers to essential services like digital education are swiftly removed.

This is according to a technology executive in the Southern African region as local schools and tertiary institutions remain closed for a lockdown period aimed at curbing the spread of the pandemic.

In South Africa, schools were scheduled to have opened at the end of March but are bearing the brunt of a 21-day lockdown that ends on April 16.

Amid the continued closure, schools have asked parents and children to ensure learning continues at home.

Days after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of measures to combat the spread of the COVID-19, on March 15, many schools had taken the curricular online.

“So for many students, it’s back to school this week, albeit from home,” said David Chen, Vice President of Huawei Southern Africa.

He said amid the current lockdown, online education could be a societal equaliser.

The executive hailed the recent announcement of zero-rated educational and informational (reference) websites as a crucial move by South Africa’s mobile networks and an indication of how seriously the ICT industries took their role to impact society where they can in positive

Chen said online education would enable all students to be in a position to access the world’s best educational content regardless of economic barriers.

“This is contingent on broadband becoming ubiquitous,” Chen added.

Chen cited the example of China, where Huawei is headquartered and where the virus later to be called COVI-19 first emerged.

Several traditional schools had to postpone the new semester until mid-February or until the end of March.

The Ministry of Education made known its plans to launch a national internet cloud classroom in February 2020.

A number of teaching material and courses for students would be made available.

While the country entered a lock-down period to curb the spread of the disease, scholars would still be able to continue with their curriculum by connecting to their learning content, classroom and teachers over broadband internet access.

Chen noted thus broadband access had become a necessity, for a smoother teaching, interesting learning and efficient monitoring.

“Improving the pace at which broadband is developed in the country underpins many, if not all, endeavors to limit the impact of external forces and disruptions to education provision and other public service delivery.”

According to experts, in South Africa, data traffic surged between 35 percent and 60 percent, as reported in almost all local networks during the lockdown.

Yet, Chen said, some in the country might not be able to access the rich content that has been made available, due to issues of broadband access or network capacity.

“For broadband to be expanded in the country, for capacity to be built up to allow for large-scale use of online services going beyond education to health, government and commerce applications, requires a host of elements to be in place now.”

Chen concluded that overall, once operators were able to deploy new network sites more easily, rapidly and cost effectively, South Africans would start enjoying benefits of expanded broadband networks.

– CAJ News

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