Digital divide in South Africa
South Africa faces many developmental problems that make it one of the more complex societies in the world. The country is divided by ethnic inequality and discrepancies in the level of development between different sectors. These obstacles result in disparities in access to information and communications technology (ICT). This disparity is commonly known as the digital divide.
South Africa started the development of a local telecommunications industry in 1958. Despite a rather successful state policy for some two decades, the old state policies can no longer keep up with new designs of digital equipment. Many proposals are currently being discussed within the government and the telecommunications industry itself for future development. One attempt to liberalize the communications industry was to end the monopoly of Telkom and open up the sector for market competition. In addition, since the change in technology is so rapid and radical, local firms find themselves increasingly obsolescent in technology because the import and manufacture of digital equipment are expensive and its continual updating is necessary.
The introduction of e-governance such as implementation of online governmental websites has been proven to be a huge challenge to South Africa. According to Kroukamp (2005), political leaders are reluctant to bring changes to the IT policies that are thought to be unnecessary. In many cases, changes are only made to satisfy the needs of the government instead of citizens. In the social context, available websites might not reach everyone, since people speak different mother tongues.
Between 2000 and 2003, there was a growth rate of 59 percent in the number of schools with computers, mainly in secondary schools. Despite a high growth rate, at the national level, 39 percent of schools in South Africa have computers and 26 percent use computers for teaching and learning. It follows that more than half of the schools in South Africa cannot provide students with any computer facility. Statistics have also shown that there is a stark regional disparity in the growth rate of ICT, with Gauteng, Northern Cape and Western Cape far ahead of other provinces.
In both primary and secondary schools, basic computer knowledge is being taught. However, there is a disparity in the capabilities of students and teachers to use ICT effectively to integrate technology into teaching and learning.
According to Statistics, by the end of 2009, 10.8 percent of the entire population in South Africa has access to the Internet. Having an average Internet speed of about 1 Mbit/s, the country’s connection speed is below the 2 Mbit/s Broadband international average. Hence, South Africa’s low access rate to the Internet and below average connection speed make it difficult for the country to compete with other countries in attracting foreign investments.
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