#SONA2019: Spectrum allocation, digital skills take priority

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President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his second State of the Nation Address in Parliament this evening.
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his second State of the Nation Address in Parliament this evening.

The telecommunications sector represents vast potential for boosting economic growth, and as a result, communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams "will shortly be issuing policy direction to ICASA for the licensing of the high-demand radio frequency spectrum".

So said president Cyril Ramaphosa, delivering the last State of the Nation Address (SONA) for the fifth and current administration this evening. SONA is an opportunity for the president to provide an overview of current developments in the country and set out government's key plans for the year ahead

Last year, Ramphosa promised swift action in regards to allocating spectrum, noting the prosperity of South Africa depends on the country's ability to take full advantage of rapid technological change.

To back up the president's commitment, ICASA announced, last October, plans to license spectrum "by no later than the end of March 2019".

"We are pleased to report that significant progress has been made in restoring policy certainty on mining regulation and the visa regime, crafting the path towards mobile spectrum allocation, and reviewing port, rail and electricity prices," Ramaphosa said in his address.

Since taking office in February 2018, the president and his administration have dedicated attention to the fourth industrial revolution and how to equip citizens with the necessary skills to thrive in a digital society.

He used his address this evening to stress the importance of technology and innovation for the South African economy going forward.

Ramaphosa told the joint sitting of the National Assembly that government's small business incubation programme, which provides entrepreneurs with physical space, access to specialised knowledge, market linkages, training in the use of new technologies and access to finance, currently consists of a network of 51 technology business incubators, 10 enterprise supplier development incubators and 14 rapid youth incubators.

"As part of the expansion of this programme, township digital hubs will be established, initially in four provinces, with more to follow. We expect these hubs to provide most needed entrepreneurial service to small and medium enterprises in the rural areas and townships but more especially to young people who want to start their businesses," the president stated.

Education overhaul

Turning his attention to education and skills development, Ramaphosa said government should improve the education system to prepare the country for the digital age.

According to him, the country's history demands improvement to education in order to develop the skills that will be needed now and into the future.

"Over the next six years, we will provide every school child in South Africa with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device.

"We will start with those schools that have been historically most disadvantaged and are located in the poorest communities, including multigrade, multiphase, farm and rural schools.

"Already, 90% of textbooks in high enrolment subjects across all grades and all workbooks have been digitised."

Furthermore, Ramaphosa said government will expand the training of both educators and learners to respond to emerging technologies, including the Internet of things, robotics and artificial intelligence.

"Several new technology subjects and specialisations will be introduced, including technical mathematics and technical sciences, maritime sciences, aviation studies, mining sciences and aquaponics.

"To expand participation in the technical streams, several ordinary public schools will be transformed into technical high schools."

Commenting on Ramphosa's tech overhaul for the South African education system, Michelle Lissoos, director of Think Ahead and iSchoolAfrica, expressed excitement at the plans government has in store for learning.

Lissoos explained: "Research has found that 65% of students entering primary school today will end up working in jobs that don't yet exist. And, thanks to the rapid evolution of technology, by 2020, there will be around 83 million jobs globally that don't have skilled people to fulfil them.

"The fourth industrial revolution is already disrupting every industry and the skills associated with coding will help students face an uncertain future with a degree of certainty."

Ramphosa concluded: "Revolutionary advances in technology are reshaping the way people work and live. It is a choice between being overtaken by technological change or harnessing it to serve our developmental aspirations."

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