Article Cites GHRC’s ‘Access Denied’ Report

The Digital Divide: Barriers To The Realization Of Digital Rights For Learners In South Africa

The right to basic education is a cornerstone of the South African post-apartheid constitutional dispensation. It refers to the right of every learner to free and accessible learning mechanisms. Naturally, in 2023, this must also dovetail with digital access for all learners if South Africa intends on keeping pace as best it can in the age of the fourth industrial revolution. This right is also embedded in the nation’s policy and jurisprudence as one that is immediately realisable and of utmost importance for learners to adequately, and sustainably, participate in modern society. Despite this, the digital literacy of learners in South Africa remains in a woeful state and the gap in computer training and internet access between private and public education is stark.

Many South African schools, particularly those serving rural areas and predominantly poor and Black learners, lack sufficient infrastructure to provide such training and access, actively limiting learners’ rights to basic education. This digital divide has been exacerbated by the pandemic – with over 12 million children affected over the past two and a half years. The importance of digital access, both in terms of speed and capacity, became apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic to bridge the gap in the remote education of learners.

Challenges to digital education are not new phenomena in South Africa. Nationally, only 22% of households have a computer while only 10% have an internet connection. In the North West and Limpopo provinces, only 3.6% and 1.6% respectively, have access to the internet at home. In 2018, the National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS) found that only 4 675 out of 23 471 of schools had internet connectivity for teaching and learning. The NEIMS report highlighted that state and private sector initiatives to provide historically disadvantaged schools with IT infrastructure are disjointed, poorly coordinated, and unsustainable. Another critique is that there is an over reliance on the private and non-profit sectors to bridge the digital divide among learners in South Africa.