FACT: 80 per cent of all jobs will be re­lated to sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics (STEM) by 2020. The bad news: ac­cord­ing to the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum's Global Com­pet­i­tive­ness Re­port, South Africa ranks last out of 144 coun­tries for qual­ity

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - How Your World Works -

AGAINST THE BACK­DROP OF SOUTH AFRICA’S dire short­age – cur­rent and po­ten­tial – of sci­en­tists and en­gi­neers, the Cape Town Sci­ence Cen­tre and soft­ware gi­ants SAP came to­gether in cre­at­ing a foun­da­tion team that gave birth to last year's Africa Code Week.

Of­fi­cially ranked as the largest lit­er­acy ini­tia­tive ever or­gan­ised on the African con­ti­nent, Africa Code Week sparked the in­ter­est of more than 89 000 chil­dren across 17 coun­tries to write their first lines of code. Ac­cord­ing to Julie Clever­don, di­rec­tor at the Cape Town Sci­ence Cen­tre, there's clearly a huge de­mand for this skill set: “An ex­am­ple would be the at­ten­dance fig­ures, which aimed to reach 20 000 chil­dren, but man­aged to sur­pass this fig­ure by 444 per cent.”

Each of the coun­tries in­volved bat­tled it out in a friendly – but by no means non­com­pet­i­tive – ri­valry. Morocco scooped the high­est ra­tio of 33 589 youth in­tro­duced to cod­ing, re­sult­ing in a grant from SAP to roll out dig­i­tal ed­u­ca­tion kits in par­tic­i­pat­ing schools. Sec­ond was the Ivory Coast, which re­ceived a grant to sup­port the cre­ation of a web pro­gram­ming school for un­der­served young Ivo­rians, and third was Tu­nisia. Of the 89 000 in­volved, South Africa suc­cess­fully se­cured more than 17 000 at the event. “The vi­ral im­pact in Morocco was a per­fect ex­am­ple of how gov­ern­ments can lever­age con­ti­nent-wide ini­tia­tives to en­cour­age ICT teach­ing in schools while driv­ing en­gage­ment among stu­dents and teach­ers alike,” says Clever­don.

The skills devel­op­ment ini­tia­tive is the story of hun­dreds of schools, teach­ers, min­is­ters, com­mu­nity cen­tres, busi­nesses and non-prof­its get­ting to­gether to com­bat the con­ti­nent's un­em­ploy­ment rate and dig­i­tal di­vide. With more than 150 000 youth and 1 500 in­struc­tors trained by Sap-skilled vol­un­teers across Africa, the am­bi­tious long- term goal is to em­power 200 000 teach­ers and im­pact on the lives of 5 mil­lion chil­dren within the next 10 years.

Over the next quar­ter of a cen­tury Africa's workingage pop­u­la­tion will dou­ble to one bil­lion, ex­ceed­ing that of China and In­dia. Yet the dig­i­tal skills gap con­tin­ues to es­ca­late. Clever­don be­lieves pro­grammes like Africa Code Week pro­vides a so­lu­tion: “Cod­ing has the power to put mil­lions of young Africans on the path to suc­cess­ful ca­reers and em­power them to build sus­tain­able growth. Com­pa­nies in Africa are cur­rently strug­gling to hire enough qual­i­fied IT tal­ent. So the ques­tion is not whether a full life­cy­cle of skills sup­port for young peo­ple in Africa needs to be cre­ated, but rather – when?”

Still, there's a pos­i­tive spin to be found in the re­al­i­sa­tion that Africa has the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the fastest-grow­ing dig­i­tal con­sumer mar­ket on the planet, sup­ported by the youngest and largest pop­u­la­tion – with 122 mil­lion peo­ple to be added to the work­force by 2020. Says Su­nil Ge­ness, di­rec­tor of gov­ern­ment af­fairs and CSR lead for SAP Africa: “There is no doubt that the dig­i­tal econ­omy is here.”

Ge­ness says that digi­ti­sa­tion is fos­ter­ing huge eco­nomic growth world­wide, cre­at­ing six mil­lion jobs in 2011 alone. “As a re­sult, com­puter lit­er­acy has be­come a sig­nif­i­cant driver in es­tab­lish­ing fu­ture gen­er­a­tions in the work­place. As we all know, dig­i­tal skills are crit­i­cal for Africa's econ­omy and that is why we need to call upon gov­ern­ment, cor­po­rates and the pub­lic to help Africa's youth be­come tech-savvy.”

It's not just the grow­ing skills di­vide that needs some ur­gent at­ten­tion. The lack of women in the tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try has be­come a global is­sue that, for­tu­nately, is be­ing ad­dressed. Over and above high at­ten­dance fig­ures for Africa Code Week, the fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion ra­tio was an im­pres­sive 60 per cent in Tu­nisia, 56 per cent in South Africa and 50 per cent in Togo.

Build­ing on the suc­cess of this first edi­tion, SAP and part­ners are now pre­par­ing for Africa Code Week 2016, with plans to ex­pand into 30 coun­tries. Feel­ing in­spired and ready to code? Be a part of the Africa Code Week mis­sion and get in­volved by vis­it­ing africa­code­ to reg­is­ter. – Adam Hunter, mar­cus­brew­

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