Joburg kicks off digital training initiative

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Phase two of the City of Joburg's digital ambassador training programme begins.
Phase two of the City of Joburg's digital ambassador training programme begins.

Unemployed youth will receive digital training to empower community members with basic online skills as the 2016 season of the Digital Ambassadors Programme gets under way.

In partnership with the University of Johannesburg and the Harambee Youth Empowerment Accelerator, the City of Johannesburg (COJ) moved to establish the R80 million digital training initiative last year.

It forms part of the city's mandate to bridge the digital divide in Johannesburg, according to the COJ. Through the programme, the city recruits and trains unemployed matriculants in digital literacy and information technology. As part of the programme, the city aims to train over 3 000 young people with more in-depth digital skills and then distribute them across the city to provide digital literacy training to other members of the community.

Once the youths have received training, armed with a tablet, they go into communities to pass on their digital skills so that more Johannesburg residents can gain enough knowledge to access the Internet.

The first group of digital ambassadors trained more than 24 800 Internet-deprived users on how to navigate the mobile Web and use WiFi to improve their lives, according to executive mayor Parks Tau during his State of the City address.

"The movement of data and information will define the fate of cities in the 21st century - just as the movement of people has defined the nature of cities for as long as they have existed," said Tau.

Earning power

The launch of this year's digital ambassador programme saw more than two-dozen youths gathered at the Klipfontein Multipurpose Centre in the city's Region E.

Championed by the executive mayor, the initiative, which falls under Vulindlel' eJozi, aims to break down barriers to youth employment.

According to Tau, the city knows and understands that with just a little help, Johannesburg youth could become its greatest asset and that is why it is investing so much in the youth.

"This is in line with our developmental local government approach to the implementation of the 2040 growth and development strategy," said Tau.

Using the city's Maru a Jozi portal, the digital ambassadors help those with little knowledge on how to navigate the Internet and show community members how to access the city's 408 free WiFi hotspots.

For every member of the community they train, each digital ambassador earns R50.

Speaking at the Klipfontein launch, the city's Ephraim Pooe told the unemployed youth this was one opportunity they needed to grab with both hands. "To every youth, this is one opportunity not worth missing."

Moira De Roche, MD of e-learning company Aligned4Learning, applauds the digital ambassador programme.

"I think it is a wonderful initiative; if it works it will hopefully become a blueprint for future programmes in other municipalities."

She adds: "What I like about the programme is that it provides training to people who then are required to give back to the community, and earn a small stipend for doing it. Teaching a skill is a great way to really understand it, and be able to transfer it to the real world."

Innovation blueprint

Besides being provided with a tablet to train community members, digi-entrepreneurs will also be mentored in business acumen to enable them to use technology to create innovation for their own enterprises, says the city.

According to De Roche, programmes like the digital ambassador initiative are sustainable. However, they should be about receiving real digital skills, not only computer literacy.

I am thinking about 21st century skills such as search or research, document handling, privacy, security and so on, she says.

"Most users (especially the millennials) do not have to be trained on how to use mobile devices, but really need to learn how to get the most out of them while staying safe. There is also a need to explain to users why using the Internet and WiFi will improve their lives. So the digital ambassadors must live up to the title and also be evangelists for the benefits of living online," she states.

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