President Ramaphosa’s June 2019 State of the Nation Address emphasised the need to transform South Africa’s education system. He went further, highlighting that one of Africa’s most urgent challenges is the exclusion of the continent’s youth cohort from any consideration in debates about Africa’s development processes.  The 2019 Mo Ibrahim Forum Report had earlier argued much the same point: that the new pan-African development vision, embodied through the AfCFTA, had to ensure that Africa’s youth was given economic opportunities in developing the continent.

Grasping the many opportunities that the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or 4IR, will hold for Africa will be crucial in allowing Africa’s youth to participate in development processes.  The African youth must be equipped with future-ready skills to engage in professions – such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Blockchain and drone technology, to name a few.  These technological advances can improve service delivery across African countries.

It is important that African policy frameworks, including the AfCFTA, include a prescriptive element on how the youth can be prepared for, and participate in, the future world of work, so they can reap the rewards and benefits brought about by the 4IR.  To quote the 2019 Ibrahim Forum Report on one element of the AfCFTA: “The continental agenda for trade and business expansion should be reinforced to allow professional and educational mobility and upskilling of Africa’s workforce.”

Africa’s labour force needs upskilling. While there are views that Africa should not be fixated on the Fourth Industrial Revolution due to Africa’s inability to fully engage with the previous industrial revolutions, it is important to note that development at its various stages is not mutually exclusive.

Africa can focus on industrialization, simultaneously working to upskill the youth for the 4IR. One example will be rapid advances in drone technology that can facilitate service delivery, especially in the health care sector.  Drones can rapidly transport essential medicines and blood to remote areas, empowering, and improving the lives of, many Africans.

South Africa has started the transformation of its educational system. The curriculum now includes coding and data analytics at the primary school level with teachers undergoing the needed training to teach these new subjects.

President Ramaphosa has also appointed expert members of the public across various fields to the Presidential Commission on the 4IR. The commission will assist the government in “taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the digital revolution and to identify relevant policies, strategies and action plans that will position South Africa as a competitive global player”.

At the same time, one of the last decisions of the former education minister, Dr Naledi Pandor, was to establish a 4IR task team to assist the department in developing effective systems that will allow the education system to be geared towards digitalization processes.

President Ramaphosa, during the recent Digital Economy 2019 conference, invited the private sector to be key stakeholders, adding that South Africa supports any company that advocates for access to quality technology.  “Technology will truly develop the country and the continent at large”.

While there are many challenges facing Africa, most which require Africa to be industrialised, we dare not neglect the opportunities that the Fourth Industrial Revolution can bring in improving the lives of Africans and that can take Africa to greater innovation and global trade in higher-value products.

Tutwa Consulting Group has deep insights into how the AfCFTA could embrace and enable the 4IR to develop the continent. With Policy insights that matter, Tutwa Consulting Group will keep you ahead of the curve.