The shortage of ICT skills in South Africa has more to do with a growing reliance on corporate sponsorship and lack of interest among school leavers in the sector than it does with cost according to findings of the 2017 Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) ICT Skills survey.
Over 53% of the 300 respondents indicated a preference for offsite learning, which includes online, and further mitigates the cost issue related to ICT skills.
Adrian Schofield, Manager of the Applied Research Unit at the JCSE says the diverse ways in which people are able to acquire ICT skills, including through eLearning/podcasts and knowledge sharing as opposed to commercial and vendor training, has done much to eliminate the cost barrier.
"I think the fees must fall (campaign) is really a diversion. It is important that education must be affordable - it's absolutely vital that it is affordable and we should make sure that not one single cent is wasted in delivering the best quality education, but education isn't free. The model of students paying for at least some of their education is accepted globally. Of more importance is that we are not creating the raw material pipeline of people who want to study in these subjects. The universities are full with students studying every subject under the sun but not enough of them are asking to study ICT related subjects and that comes from the way we encourage them at a young age and it has got nothing to do with the fees they might have to pay when they get to university."
Schofield adds that many private sector initiatives to address the skills gap have also done much to reduce the price of training through programmes.
"At the higher level skills you have to take people in small numbers. A BCX Data Science Academy is pitched at a high level of knowledge and you can't bring in thousands of people to study that - you have to bring in ten, twenty or thirty. It is the same with the other initiatives. They are taking people in small numbers but when you look at the total number of people practicing those skills in this country, they will make a reasonable contribution to the skills available. In contrast if Google can put an interest in digital skills to hundreds of thousands of young people - those people will take it and develop it into something useful."
Anton Jacobz, Managing Director of Networks Unlimited believes more needs to be done to encourage interest in these skills.
"As well as looking to short-term solutions by supporting employees in-house through internships, mentoring and on-line learning opportunities, we also need to look at our school curriculum. Here, we need to think longer-term, by starting to train learners at school level already. If we do not address the need for ICT training in schools, the cyber skills shortage today is only going to get worse into the future."
South African President Jacob Zuma released the findings of the Heher Commission of Inquiry into the feasibility of making high education and training fee-free in South Africa.
The Report identifies online and blended learning as among its chief requirements.
"Blended learning is becoming increasingly common in contact and distance modes, drawing on best practices in both online and face-to-face methods. Online education and ICTs are used together with contact education in order to enhance learning and incorporate different learning styles. The extent of online or contact education can differ considerably from course to course, and so also its effectiveness as a teaching method depends on factors relating to both students and course design."
Zuma has appointed an inter-ministerial committee on higher education funding led by the Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, and the Presidential Fiscal Committee under Minister of Finance Malusi Gigaba to process the report alongside members of the public.
"I will make a pronouncement on the report once the ministers have concluded their work. I have decided to release the report prior to the conclusion of our work in processing it so that the public can have an opportunity to study the report while we continue with the processing thereof," Read a quote by Zuma released in a statement.