As South Africa’s tech industry expands, it must also meet the needs of employers and potential employees alike, and that means broadening perspectives on how to educate the next generation of developers. Internationally, online education has become incredibly important in educating people in the digital age, but South Africa still lags behind in terms of how we think of, and treat people, within the tech industry. Institutions take years to update their syllabi with essential learning areas that employers demand, meaning that a lot of what is learned at traditional institutions is outdated at best and obsolete at the worst, while online training providers are constantly shifting and transforming to cater to the learning needs of future developers – a group as diverse and rapidly-evolving as technology itself.
Considering the amount of time it takes to follow a traditional study path, such as at a university or technical college, combined with the financial pressure acquiring a degree places on a student, it is no surprise that South African university drop-out rates are high. The Department of Education and Training publishes an annual report on graduate statistics, and this year revealed that 47.9% of university students do not go on to complete their degrees for various reasons, study fees being the usual culprit.
Statistically, only around one in twenty black students go on to finish their degree, compared with almost one in two white students. Fifty years ago the South African government was spending 16 times more on the education of a very small privileged portion of society, and all one needs to do is read some of the statistics to see how oppressive policies have affected people’s access to education. Overall, owing to Apartheid’s legacy, most people and families of colour in South Africa do not have the ability to afford exorbitant university fees.
Online education can help bridge the gap between these enormous inequalities. Studying a course online is not only more affordable than going to university, but also more accessible, as a student need not factor in other concerns such as transport or university residence costs. There are still many barriers between disadvantaged communities and South Africa’s flourishing tech industry, but one way to reconcile them is through building technological literacy outside of major cities. While access to the Internet is still considered a luxury for many South Africans, someone from an underdeveloped area who may never have the opportunity to go to university still has a number of routes to access online education. Smartphones are also a significant tool for online learning, with recent research showing 34% of South Africans have phones that can access the Internet and applications.
On a global level, support for online learning resources is high. A recent survey asked 20,000 people from 187 countries about how they learned to code, and huge numbers stated that they found online learning more helpful in their path to becoming a developer than through other more traditional learning avenues. They listed websites such as freeCodeCamp (77%), Stack Overflow (62%), W3Schools (54%), and Codeacademy (53%) as beneficial to their learning journey, while only 38% of respondents had completed a Bachelor’s Degree from a traditional tertiary education institution. Of that number, most respondents hadn’t studied a technology-related subject, which solidifies the idea that online learning will make becoming a developer more accessible to people from all walks of life.
Furthermore, the Institute of Race Relations 2016 South Africa Survey shows that there are nearly half a million South Africans with a tertiary qualification from a university or college who are currently unemployed, proving that that traditional education is neither the most effective nor the only manner in which to penetrate South Africa’s modern job market.
It is worth noting that most professional developers have used other forms of education to assist them in their career paths. As seen in the table below, over 90% were self-taught and over 44% using online short courses to assist in developing their skills.