SONA

SONA reSONAting with HyperionDev

Ramaphosa’s SONA was, according to TechCentral, “the most technology-focused speech ever delivered by a South African head of state”. The state-of-the-nation address proposed various interventions to develop the skills needed for the “fourth Industrial Revolution”. Among others, Ramaphosa wants to see:

  • The creation of new jobs to absorb youth in productive economic activity, particularly in tech-related fields – e.g. coding and data analytics.
  • The training of both educators and learners who are equipped to deal with emerging technologies, such as the Internet of Things, robotics, artificial intelligence, etc.
  • The introduction of new technology subjects, including technical mathematics and technical sciences.

It’s no surprise Ramaphosa wants to focus on developing tech skills. There is high global demand for such skills and South Africa suffers from an alarming 2018 unemployment rate of 27,5%. With over 200 000 students reached, HyperionDev has dramatically shaped tech education in South Africa. Riaz Moola who started HyperionDev, a South African-based start-up offering Web Development, Software Engineering and Data Science bootcamps to both South Africans and the world, shares his lessons learnt as the largest provider of tech education in the country.

 

Tech disproportionately contributes to a country’s economy

“Bearing in mind that tech disproportionately contributes to a country’s economy,” says Moola, “we have to look at ways of reducing barriers to entry. One way to do this is to embrace non-traditional education paths.”

He explains that it’s no good just relying on traditional routes like universities or technikons to teach young South Africans in-demand tech skills. “My motivations for setting up HyperionDev stemmed directly from witnessing the depressing drop-out rates in South African universities in computer science degrees. With an average failure rate of 88%, I couldn’t see South Africa meeting its tech demands and I wanted to change that. My initial idea was a simple one: an online course where people with limited internet access, a reality in South Africa, could still become programmers.”

“To deal with uniquely African conditions, including low bandwidth, l developed a simple online course in Python to teach students the basics of artificial intelligence utilising small files – rather than the large videos offered by many massive open online courses (MOOCs).” And from there, HyperionDev grew to cover other educational streams such as Data Science, Web Development and Software Engineering. It’s currently the largest online coding bootcamp in Africa and has been scaled to over 40 countries internationally.

 

Direct link with employment

Any educational offering needs to link directly with an employer’s requirements. “We should align education with employment opportunities,” states Moola, “rather than focussing on specific skills or programming languages. Remember, the field of ‘coding’ is vast, so we need to see where the gaps exist. Our research – we’re always speaking to potential employers – shows the biggest gaps exist for Full Stack Web Developers, Backend Developers, Software Engineers and Devops Engineers. We then train accordingly.”

It seems to be working, because there’s a direct link between HyperionDev’s courses and student employment rates. “Our Graduate Outcomes Report shows that over 95% of our graduates reach their career outcomes and 72% switch into new tech jobs within 3 months of graduating.”

 

Prioritising accredited courses

Interestingly, one of Moola’s biggest challenges involves accreditation. Consumers and funders still prioritise accreditation, he explains. However “the South African National Qualifications Framework does not have unit standards for the majority of tech skills required by employers, partly because of how rapidly technology changes.”

Python, a very versatile programming language, illustrates this point. “When we first started HyperionDev, Python was not popular in South Africa. Now the demand from students and employers alike is massive. Python is used widely in Web Development and Software Engineering. We were able to meet that demand.” EdTech providers need to move quickly to mirror market requirements; lengthy and outdated accreditation procedures don’t always allow this to happen.

In closing, Moola is excited to be involved in his field. “EdTech goes hand in hand with non-traditional education models. Coding bootcamps are a powerful alternative, or sometimes even an addition, to universities.” Ramaphosa has hit the nail on the head with this year’s SONA speech: it’s the right time for South Africa to start skilling up in tech fields.

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