The school system needs a revamp — a critical look at the relevance of the curriculum taught to youth in the digital age. Are we setting Africa’s children up with skills they can use? Nicolene Ndelu is a millenial photographer who believes in harnessing the power of the digital landscape from a young age. With this in mind, she wishes to pass on knowledge to next generation youth in South Africa.
Nicolene is adamant on the introduction of digital literacy into the school syllabus as she believes it to be the future way of life. It’s more than a new trend. With the world continuously evolving into
a digitally-dominant one, learning how to market and sell online is fast becoming a necessary life skill.
“Education should be a bit more future-facing and when I say that, I don’t mean let’s get rid of everything that’s currently being taught in schools,” says Nicolene. “Rather, schools should bolt on subjects such as coding to their curricula. I think coding is something that children should learn from a very early age because it’s such a big component of the future world of work and how we work right now.”
Generation X are a species worlds apart from their Boomer parents. Whilst we may have only been introduced to iPhones, and the iWorld in general, when we were in our late teens or 20s, Generation X are playing on iPads whilst still in nappies. Children should be taught digital literacy from as early as grade three, Nicolene insists. “These children have grown up with Facebook and don’t know a world without a smartphone. This is the world that they know and are growing up in,” she says.
Nicolene expresses clearly what she wants to be taught in schools, on top of online safety: All the way from the basics, such as how to open a Facebook page, through to learning to code with Python.
“Developments are happening online and social media is getting more complex. Soft skills that seem to be quite easy should be prioritised above all else,” says Nicolene.
Nicolene is adamant that even if one topic such as social media is taught, it can spawn a whole range of transferable skills. “When you’re teaching social media, you’re never teaching one thing. When you say to a child you’re going to do a marketing campaign for their product, they need to learn how to photograph it so they have a skill in photography. They need to do copywriting so they have a skill in copywriting. They have to monitor it and understand what the data means. So a lot of current and important skills can be taught in one project. It emphasises problem solving, critical thinking and creativity as well.”
Crucially, teaching digital literacy has a strong chance of curbing the growing numbers of unemployment. The unemployment levels are extremely high but with the arrival of the internet, entrepreneurs are finding accessible, and often free, platforms to showcase products and services. It makes sense, therefore, to take full advantage of the tools and teach the youth how to use them from as early an age as possible.
“I was shocked when I entered the industry by how much I didn’t know about online and social media skills,” says Nicolene. “I would say it has something to do with my age but children that I went to high school with were exposed to things before me, and a lot of them said, ‘I use Instagram as a business tool.’ I thought: What are you using Instagram as a business tool for?
How did you even know that existed? What business?”
“One identified solution for unemployment is entrepreneurship,” Nicolene continues. “If we have such a huge rate of unemployment in this country, give the people the tools that they need. Many businesses have started online and many of these people are becoming millionaires and billionaires. Those opportunities aren’t known by everyone and a lot of people have skills but don’t know how to monetise and market them. In terms of job creation, we focus on agriculture, mining and farming. I’m not saying take away from that but there are jobs that exist today that weren’t here a few years ago.”
Nicolene recounts her own experiences in high school with classes that were geared towards a more practical edge. In grade eight, she had to design her own marketing campaign from scratch. Offline projects like these are necessary but bringing the project into the digital space is crucial.
“By bringing digital literacy into school, it’s another layer that enhances the experience. Some people can’t go to college. It equips people with this knowledge, for free – though most people are paying for [Facebook] with information – and early on in their careers.”
“I have a few friends who are young influencers (18 to 21 years old). They already have these great followings. They don’t know about contracts though so they’re signing with brands and they don’t know about copyright handout laws.” Nicolene says she actively shares useful content and tutorials she finds online but is adamant that it is primarily the education system’s responsibility.Entrepreneurship is evolving into the digital space. More and more transactions are taking place online, and the youth are just waiting to be granted access. “Online is the space we live in. The law has evolved,” Nicolene says. “The implications of what happens online become more prevalent in the real world. Arts, culture and science have evolved. Education has to evolve too.”
Article originally appeared in African Independent's August/September issue.