The e-Skills Institute (e-SI) March newsletter arrived on March 25, reminding us that public comment on the draft National e-Skills Plan of Action (NeSPA) 2012 closes on March 26 at noon. Not too long to absorb 99 pages!

What would you expect from a Plan of Action? A concise executive summary, a reasoned analysis of issues and a clear set of measurables to be achieved? Certainly something along those lines.

Certainly not a document to which you can apply the 80/20 rule – remove 80% of the words without losing even 20% of the meaning. Having labelled all known activities with the dreaded “e”, we now have “e-astuteness” and “e-social astuteness”. Huh? The word “valorise” comes in – not one used too often in the boardrooms of South Africa. Did you know we are subject to “global terminological shifts”?

I cannot resist quoting two paragraphs verbatim (Sorry, they are sentences although long enough to be paragraphs):

“A unique permutation of catalytic contributions that can build capability for national developmental needs such as increased self-reliance, strengthening local economic development and increased e-social astuteness for equity, prosperity and global competitiveness.”

“It is simply self-evident that whatever has been established and achieved in the past has been insufficient to predict, prevent and respond to the needs of the current situation and that no amount of readjustment in these systems can provide the necessary leadership, scholarship and relevant responsiveness required.”

The first reads like the label of a snake-oil bottle. The second, though, is dynamite. “Simply self-evident” – this is convenient to the argument but there is no proof, or we dare not accuse anybody? “…prevent…the needs…” – completely inappropriate word! “…no amount of readjustment…” – the situation is so screwed up it cannot be fixed.

Now look at what NeSPA proposes to achieve in the next 5 years:

In particular, the e-Skills Institute has planned to achieve the following in the next five years:
1. Producing Thought Leaders (across all stakeholders groups) by attaining the following: engage 100 postgraduate students; organising 60 seminars and lectures for senior decision-makers within the stakeholders groups as well as for established researchers from other disciplines and emerging e-skills researchers; the above activities will help to engage 100 e-skills researchers that will assist forming a firm theoretical and conceptual foundation for e-skills interventions as well as for assessing the interventions (aggregation, monitoring and evaluation); Organise regular biannual e-Skills Summits and annual e-Skills Colloquiums.
2. Supporting ICT sector and Creative Industries by facilitating the enrolment of e-skills related: 50 PhD students; 100 Honours and Masters level students; 500 Bachelor level students; 10 internationally renowned scholars; It is also envisaged that the e-SI will help facilitate the establishment of a range of industry-related and recognised qualifications (short courses and postgraduate diplomas);
3. Developing e-Skills users across key stakeholder sectors. It is envisaged that through the facilitated efforts of the e-SI, one million ICT users will have recognised, industry-related qualifications relevant for their field of work (e.g. Business, Government, Health sector, Education, Civil Institute organisations);
4. e-Skilling Communities by achieving: 10 million e-literate citizens able to socially appropriate ICT; Capacitating 20% of Civil Institute organisations for delivering skills necessary for the social appropriation of ICT.
Furthermore, e-SI proposes the following priorities to be accomplished in the next 5 years:

50% increased intake in relevant e-skills course and programmes, organised by universities FET colleges, training institutions and civil society organisations, that are recognised and accepted by industry;

75% of graduates appropriately e-skilled for employment and entrepreneurship;

Assisting in the establishment of at least two (2) new industries and/or service provision options that will support the current national industrial strategy in order to create sustainable employment, aligned to job opportunities for the knowledge-based economy such as the Creative Industries;

100% increase in the number of substantive and targeted e-skills research programmes;

100% increase of undergraduate, postgraduate and short courses relevant to the country’s e-skills needs and delivered through open and distance learning;

100% access to the e-skills for Digital Inclusion and Social Innovation in the rural and peri-urban communities – particularly for unemployed youth, women and “vulnerable groups” such as people with disabilities or minority groups.

How is all this possible? No worries – we take three institutions and roll them up into one – the e-SI (New Single Entity for e-Skilling) will monitor and periodically evaluate the execution of this National e-Skills Plan of Action to inform the evidence-based policy making that should propose possible corrective actions or reinforce delivery of impact against the NDP and MTSF. The same is recommended at the level of the e-Skills Knowledge Production and Coordination CoLabs. The “Single Entity” comprises e-Skills Institute, NEMISA and ISSA, given legal form by NEMISA’s NPC status (what we used to call a Section 21 Company).

At this point, I was glad that I had not completed my NeSPA review in time to submit comments. I doubt the IITPSA or the e-Skills Institute would appreciate them!

However, the IITPSA must step up to the plate to focus the stakeholders on real achievable actions. The fall in the rankings is not “just one of those things” but it is a guarantee of failure as a nation if not reversed now.

Adrian Schofield, 26 March 2013