The digital divide in South Africa’s higher education sector: why public internet access is important in the context of tertiary education
“The digital divide in South Africa’s higher education sector: why public internet access is important in the context of tertiary education” discusses the ways in which internet is becoming crucial to students pursuing an education. One of the biggest changes are ICTs, or information and communication technologies. The article states, “[i]nstitutions are investing heavily in ICTs, increasing reliance on online portals for access to vital study information and ‘open’ educational resources” (1). The result of this has been “distance learning,” which allows students to “work during the day and virtually ‘attend’ classes afterwards” (1). This allows for students in rural areas to have access to classes that they may not have access to otherwise. The article then address other instances in which the online world is useful, such as internships and scholarships. While the internet is great for these things, it also creates a bigger divide between those who do and do not have access to it. “South Africans…risk being left further behind and even excluded from key aspects of the learning experience,” (2). Internet is extremely important for South African educations, as well as most of the world, because “access to internet-based learning can provide them with access to high-quality educational resources at a cost significantly more affordable than them attending the institutions with associated costs of boarding and transport in addition to the fees” (2). Internet is an investment that pays off greatly in the long-term for the entire country. The article then moves into some statistics, such as 53.5% of South Africans have a member of the household that can access internet in some way, but those ways include work and cafes as well as homes. On the contrary, only 9.6% of South Africans have access in their homes. “The vast majority of South Africans accessed internet outside the home: at work (15.0%), internet cafes or schools and universities (9.3%) and using mobile devices (47.6%)” (3). Different areas of South Africa vary greatly, with Limpopo having a 1.6% home internet rate and Western Cape standing at 21.4%. Internet costs decently more in South Africa than other African countries such as Egypt and Kenya. Most students do not have the means to pay for South Africa’s expensive internet packages. The government has intentions of supplying internet access to 90% of South Africans in the next year, but as the article says, “[i]s this a ray of hope for higher education students without reliable internet access or just another pipedream?” (4). The government’s plan is to lower prices, but public internet areas would be far more realistic. The conclusion of the article explains that this isn’t a one-man job, and that many people must collaborate to successfully accomplish the task of getting internet to all South Africans. The government, private sectors, academic institutions, and civil society all take part in making this happen. “The success of these partnerships is what will ultimately enable the output of talented graduates who can contribute positively to the country’s workforce” (7).