South Africa is set to become the first African nation to introduce the teaching of Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies in its education curriculum.

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, the country’s Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities minister has published the national youth policy (NYP), outlining some of the interventions the department thinks should be made at South African schools over the next ten years.

The policy wants to introduce positive youth development outcomes for young people at local, provincial, and national levels in South Africa.

To achieve this, it proposes interventions at the country’s schools to better prepare students for the working world as well as technological changes brought about by the 4IR.

“South Africa needs a skilled labour force to increase economic growth. These skills include engineers, health professionals in different occupational classes to deliver quality healthcare, researchers and innovators to play a critical role in creating new products, and new jobs and new ways of producing existing products cheaply and more efficiently, including the delivery of public services,” the department said.

“A foundation in education and learning is a significant protective factor against negative outcomes and is essential for young people to reach economic empowerment.”

The department noted that the 4IR has major implications on the future of work for South African youth, as well as education systems, employment and industrial policies. It said there are predictions that there will be major disruptions in traditional work structures, and that traditional education systems will be made obsolete.

“There is a need to build the 4IR capabilities among youth, in line with the ‘Industrial Internet of Things’…4IR presents new opportunities. Big data is said to be the new gold or new oil. Data is the key enabler of innovation and development,” it said.

To address this, the department said the South African education system needs to be reviewed, to ensure that it “produces highly skilled individuals relevant to labour market demands”. However, it said that this needs to be done without making ‘rapid changes’ at a basic education level.

While government has already stated its objectives around introducing more tech-driven subjects at schools – with coding and robotics already being tested in the curriculum – the NYP expands on the fields and skills it believes should be focused on. These include:

  • The drone industry;
  • Reverse engineering of smart cars;
  • 3D printing;
  • Artificial Intelligence;
  • Robotics;
  • Autonomous vehicles nanotechnology;
  • Biotechnology;
  • Big Data;
  • Internet of Things;
  • Quantum Computing; and
  • Virtual broadcasting services.

Some of the other specific interventions proposed in the policy include reviewing the education system and the exam framework to incorporate the curriculum that meets international standards, includes 4IR, and has practical utility to contribute to the economic needs of the country;

Training teachers in modern, technology-based teaching methods remains a key goal, as well as attracting, recruiting and retaining young people to the teaching profession.

Enhancing access to broadband and Wi-Fi for internet connectivity to enable the teaching of computer literacy in remote rural schools, homes and communities will be treated as a 4IR enabler.

The government will also look at customising every technology that is brought into the country to the South African environment to further enhance the available skills in the country.

But this has to start with progressively introducing practical subjects such as entrepreneurship and e-commerce, agriculture, computer, financial trading and investment, and the green economy.

In addition, all South African learners will be required to learn history, creative and critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, coding and robotics, life skills, communication, and indigenous languages.

“Schools in rural areas will use local farming land for practical or experiential learning in the agriculture value chain, with local farmers serving as mentors.”