Statement by Professor Theo Andrew, Executive Dean: Engineering and the Built Environment
The Durban University of Technology (DUT) signed an agreement with the National Department of Communication to establish E-skills Knowledge Production and a Coordination hub to improve quality of service delivery in the public sector on 28 February 2011. DUT has received R2 million from the Department of Communications to kickstart this project in 2011, which is one of five in South Africa.
DUT has been working with the e-Skills Institute for more than 12 months on developing such a base. It is a very appropriate choice to be part of this initiative, not only because of its geographical location, but also because it has the commitment and understanding needed to make the e-Skills Knowledge Production Hub a collaborative reality. This provides the opportunity for DUT to work with the Department of Communications in developing a broad curriculum, research, policy development and demonstration base for innovative work to better position the nation in the Information Society and Knowledge economies.
The national e-skills project was launched by the Minister of Communications, Mr Roy Padayachee in KwaZulu-Natal on 13 December 2010. It emerged from the launch that there is a very serious job to do to make the Medium Term Strategic Framework(MTSF) real and impactful and the collaborative space that is being established with the e-Skills Knowledge production hubs. This will focus on e-skills delivery, research and policy development which are important contributors to this need.
The e-skills hub will focus on five impact areas namely:
– Schools and Further Education and Training Colleges
The e-skills HUB will provide training and up-skilling of teaching and administrative staff in both information systems and information technology. This will improve the administration and governance of schools and colleges, and embed e-skills into the curriculum.
– Rural Communities and Rural Agencies
The HUB will provide training and skills development in this area. The main focus will be on research into appropriate ICT systems that will enable socio-economic development. This will include appropriate planning and evaluation frameworks, decision-making systems, remote learning systems, and health systems such as telemedicine.
– Small Medium and Micro Enterprises including Informal Trade
The role of the HUB will be to add value to the sector through research, development and training in business information processing using ICT, e.g. appropriate resource planning and e-commerce systems.
– Local and Provincial Governance
The HUB will play an empowering role in the professional development of political, civic and community (both urban and rural) leaders on the value of ICT systems on their organisations.
– ICT Policy Development
The HUB will facilitate e-skills development and access to broadband, or the un-affordability of broadband services and access to basic ICT services.
The initial e-Skills Knowledge Production Hubs will be located at the five universities (DUT, WSU, VUT, UWC and UP) that the e-Skills Institute has established Memoranda of Understanding with to assist it in addressing the massive e-Skills deficit we face. Through the establishment of these Hubs, people will learn how to collaborate across Business, Government, Education, Civil society (Including Labour), they will also learn how to engage with the best in the world, it will provide spaces where the best and brightest in the world can find useful, engaged and sustainable homes for innovation, service delivery, policy development, praxis and evaluation in preparing the nation for more equitable prosperity and global competitiveness in the emerging world of information societies and knowledge based economies.
Penning the agreement, DUT Vice-Chancellor and Principal Prof Ahmed Bawa described the project as a special enterprise to use technology and information technology to enhance the quality of service delivery in South Africa. He said it’s unfortunate that African states were falling behind in technology, adding that this is a fantastic opportunity to address the challenge and bridge the gap. He is excited that more strategic approaches are emerging to address this challenge. He strongly believes this will act as a hub and not just a single operation and it will bring together other partners in the combination of things. “The E-skills Centre will give an impetus and act as an intellectual hub. This is really an intellectual engagement for improving quality of service in the country,” says Prof Bawa. Prof Bawa has discussed this with eThekwini and Pietermaritzburg municipalities which have expressed tremendous interest in coming on board as potential partners in the e-skills project. He has also engaged with Dube Trade Port, which deals with business logistics and goods, and it has shown keen interest in the e-skills hub.
Spearheading the project from its inception, Executive Dean of Engineering at DUT, Prof Theo Andrew says the project was first considered about 3 years ago and he is pleased to see it materialize. “We looked at the idea and thought we can do it. I am pleased that we are now at a stage where we are signing the agreement,” says Prof Andrew. He was part of the team who drew up a concept document to make South Africa digitally active and thereby taking its rightful place in the global world. Delighted with the realisation of the project, he believes e-skills will not only change the way we do business, but also empower our developing communities. He says a tremendous amount of research has already been undertaken in socio-technical systems at DUT. “The project is aimed at improving the quality of life through technology in the rural/developing communities. The idea that society without technology is underdeveloped is not necessarily true as there is always embedded knowledge. We just need to tap into the knowledge and create a better value proposition through technology adoption, without acting as technology imperialists” comments Prof Andrew.
“It’s music to my ears that we are now at a point where we can see innovation and e-skills development,” says Dr Harold Wesso, Director-General (acting): Department of Communications. Dr Wesso says the focus will be on broadband, broadcast and the communication sector. He says e-skilling has the potential to create multibillion rand jobs in the green economy industry. He adds that e-skills is a very important initiative that has buy-in from non-governmental organisations. He explains that the minister is passionate about developing an institute that will collaborate with five other partners on intellectual development. We will succeed in this endeavour to deliver jobs for our students.
Prof Wallace Taylor, Information Society Institute (Tisi) says the international community has great goodwill to help Africa with technology, adding that Africa was only missing in architecture. He is pleased that South Africa is getting ready to reposition itself. “South Africa’s ratings in the global e-readiness indexes are falling. Our future is irrevocably tied to how and with what speed we address this issue,” cautioned Ms Mymoena Sharif, Director of the Information Society Institute (Tisi), who is co-ordinating the project for the Department of Communications. Sharif added that the introduction of regional multi-stakeholder network hubs will serve to coordinate and address the local challenges of e-skills in each of the provinces.
A photograph is available on request.
For more information, please contact Bhekani Dlamini who will facilitate the interview.
031 373 2845