CREATING A DIGITAL NATION

NEMISA: bringing South Africa into a new digital era

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The National Electronic Media Institute of South Africa (NEMISA) has been tasked with an expanded mandate to develop the e-skills capacity in South Africa. By ensuring that all citizens have the necessary digital skills, NEMISA hopes to contribute to a digitally literate society by 2030.

According to NEMISA's new CEO, Mymoena Ismail, e-skills go beyond just basic computer literacy—it also empowers people to use technology in a meaningful way to benefit their daily lives and create new economic opportunities in the process.

“South Africa needs its people to be able to use technology so that the country can move towards our goal of becoming an information or knowledge-based society. Computers, cell phones, smartphones and tablets for instance have become ubiquitous, persistent and pervasive. They are everywhere and technology continues to develop rapidly. Technology is part of our everyday life and it has become difficult to function without knowing how to use it. In order for South Africa to be globally competitive and to address wealth inequality within the country, developing e-skills is critical,” she says.The Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services is in the process of integrating its three entities. NEMISA came into being as an institution of education and learning, specialising in teaching production and technical skills applicable to the TV, radio and broadcasting industries, Animation and Graphic Design. Formed as part of a government initiative in 1998, its fundamental purpose was to train previously disadvantaged individuals, particularly women, and equip them with the skills necessary to play significant roles in the broadcasting environment.ISSA, also a directorate at the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, offered postgraduate qualifications in engineering and information and communication technology.

“NEMISA’s goals have been aligned with government’s broadband policy, South Africa Connect. But we also recognise that it’s not enough to simply supply broadband internet access to communities, there is an entire ecosystem that needs to be created to support it. One of our core focus areas is to create a demand for broadband by ensuring that people have e-skills and can adequately make use of the infrastructure.”Operating within a globally-recognised collaborative model that allows stakeholders to sustainably meet South Africa’s e-skilling objectives, NEMISA recognises the need to take stock of the numerous e-skills initiatives offered by companies, government and non-profit organisations, many of which, Ismail says are duplications or simply not aligned to a common national vision.“Technology is changing all the time, so we need to look at how we are addressing the relevant courseware available in the country. New skill sets we need to focus on include collaboration, analytical skills and critical thinking skills. We need to look at how best to close the loop when it comes to the internet, where people don’t only know how to use the internet, but are also able to see the possible entrepreneurial opportunities available for themselves, or the many ways the internet could make their jobs, or even home life, easier. 

“An advantage we have as NEMISA is that we don’t have to focus too much on the infrastructure side, thanks to the broadband policy in place. Instead we’re looking into how best to reap the digital rewards from investment in knowledge and ICT. Within the skills development space there is a special focus on the development of local or mobile apps, and we have established a research network for e-skills development for both local and international experts, where we can really explore new technologies and the skills needed to build them.“We hope for this platform to provide a space where we not only share other’s experiences and knowledge production but also start to produce our own knowledge. And, by scaling down the number of organisations involved in e-skills development, we hope to see a stronger impact. The impact must happen on the ground where our people reside,” Ismail says.Since the official concept launch for the e-skills model, NEMISA, the organisation has managed to establish a formal multi-stakeholder collaborative network. According to Ismail it is the first of its kind in the country, moving away from ‘doing to’, ‘doing for’ to ‘doing with.Endorsed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) at its Global ICT Forum in October 2012, and recommended to 55 nation states for adoption, NEMISA's model provides a formal multi-stakeholder collaborative platform that aligns all stakeholders, including business, government, civil society and education, with a common vision.While NEMISA's central operations are based in Johannesburg, there are a number of e-skills knowledge production and co-ordination CoLabs (e-skills CoLabs) based at universities. NEMISA’s aim is to see these CoLabs spread to each province. There are already six e-skills CoLabs up and running.

Alongside the institute’s national Research Network for e-Skills, NEMISA is also in the process of developing its smart centre network across the country. These community knowledge production centres (smart centres) will in future allow for both interaction and co-ordination at local community level.“Our collaborative model allows for industry feedback directly into learning initiatives. The partnerships with universities mean that numerous qualifications, including short courses, are endorsed by those universities. The ecosystem that we have created so far—which includes monitoring, evaluation and research—means that learning interventions are constantly evaluated against outcomes and research. A part of our mandate is to also improve employment figures and shorten the time between employment and productivity. Our collaborative approach will ensure that we reach our targets,” she says.In order to achieve its mandate the institute must also ensure that it, as an organisation, keeps ahead of the ever-changing technology introduced to the market.

“One big hurdle we still need to overcome is the legislation needed to make NEMISA a reality. Once the bill has been passed, which should happen by the end of this year, we will be in a better position to enforce the necessary policies. When it comes to government, business, education and civil society we will in future have a say when it comes to where investments go.We will be better equipped to influence people into getting the necessary skills in terms of available infrastructure and to access to the tools they have,” says Ismail.Another challenge facing the institute is its collaborative model, and Ismail believes it may still be some time before the various spheres of government and society are able to really work together.“As things stand you often see provincial government investing in infrastructure, local government investing in infrastructure and neither of them have given any thought to just how individuals will make use of this new technology. So for us it’s also about advocacy and awareness, looking at how to focus on the benefits coming through and not just the infrastructure itself.”Alongside the development and application of e-skills indicators for measuring the e-skills demand and supply needs in the country, NEMISA will be working closely with government departments, institutions, entities, organisations, business and civil society to ensure that education and training provided respond appropriately to the needs for e-skills.

“We will also continue to develop National Research Networks, focusing on e-skills with links to universities both locally and internationally while also continually monitoring and evaluating the e-skills readiness and progress of the country to participate effectively in the Digital Era.“Since the start, there have been two national e-skills summits. These summits allow for collaboration between global e-skills thought leaders in creating and further developing the National e-Skills Plan of Action (NeSPA). This plan directly supports the goals of the National Development Plan, SA Connect, challenges outlined in the World Economic Forum’s Global IT reports and the Millennium Development Goals,” she told Service magazine.Through the work it has done so far Ismail believes that it has come a long way in terms of understanding and defining e-skills in the South African context. “We have also successfully influenced and contributed to the SA connect policy, ensuring that there is a co-ordinated approach focused on skills development.”With a long history in developing e-skills human capacity in South Africa, Ismail has worked in government, NGOs and in business.“I come from a family where both my mom and dad were humanitarians. When I completed my matric I felt I was always aware in terms of where SA was going. So, I went to university with the idea that I wanted to work with people and be relevant. After obtaining my degree, I had become really passionate about society, and I joined the Independent Development Trust. There my passion only got stronger, I had access to real leaders who focused on making SA better for everyone,” Ismail says.

In the early 2000s, she became Head of the e-Governance Unit for the City of Cape Town and in 2007 moved to become the Founding director of IT4ALL-Africa.org, a registered NPO aimed at addressing national issues involved in the social appropriation of ICT for local socio-economic benefit.From 2010 Ismail was appointed as Chief Director at the then Department of Communications’ e-Skills Institute. Her work included being part of the team that designed and implemented a national model for the development of e-skills human capacity in the country and to improve the country’s World Economic Forum rankings. The work of the e-Skills Institute is what resulted in the concept launch of the NEMISA.In 2015, she was appointed CEO of the Cape Digital Foundation, another NPO that focuses on capitalising the development of digital infrastructure (broadband) as a means to bring about a connected economy.“As CEO of the foundation it was up to me to bring the organisation to life. This included developing a strategic plan and the first aggregation model, which later saw me recognised for my contribution at the Women in ICT awards, as well as the winner of the Top ICT Contributor. I have also jointly published research papers on ICT development and I am a passionate activist, pushing through for innovative society access to technology on an equitable basis, as well as inclusive positioning in regions rather than just communities. I joined NEMISA as CEO towards the end of last year and my goal now is to consolidate and strengthen the organisation.“My role here will see me working hard to build our credibility, working together with our partners and making sure my team remains relevant and empowered,” Ismail concludes.

 

 

 

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