Concluding comments: building agency

Rooksana Rajab


The PSET CLOUD is an ambitious project, as noted in the 2020 Power of Data publication (Rajab et al 2020):

What if we could better utilise the new technologies that have become so pervasive in the modern era to improve our education and skills systems in South Africa? Imagine having the potential to link the unemployed to job vacancies or even to start to develop new, just-in-time training programmes for jobs that do not yet exist.

Recognising that data is central to a technology-driven world and that the protection of an individual’s data has fast become a reality for all citizens, the level of engagement to build trust between citizens, governments, civil society, and companies must take centre stage (Rajab et al, 2021). In the main, the adoption of new technologies may impose considerable challenges to data protection and privacy. Citizens must be sufficiently informed of their rights to data privacy, if we are to create a truly empowered and democratic nation. It is important to rethink our model of engagement with citizens and their data so that they are confident in how their data is collected, collated, protected, interpreted and used. PSET CLOUD must explore models of engagement with citizens, and especially those that live in deprived communities. While self-sovereign identity (SSI) holds the key to the protection of data where each individual owns their own data through blockchain technology, a process of inclusivity of all citizens must remain a leading principle so as to not alienate users.

Apartheid’s spatial legacy regarding poverty and deprivation remains one of the greatest challenges confronting South Africa (Noble et al, 2014). According to Planes-Satorra and Paunov (2017), people from ‘deprived communities’ typically face a combination of three drawbacks. Firstly, they face a structural disadvantage where they lack the skills or influence to shape their environment in a meaningful way. Secondly, they face a relational weakness where they have limited access to accepted mainstream support mechanisms such as finance, advocacy and entrepreneurial networks. Finally, they face systemic barriers including ‘discrimination in the labour market’. These factors contribute to the alienation of a large proportion of our society and continued high unemployment rates in South Africa. The UNESCO 2021 report Reimagining our futures – A new social contract for education emphasises that ‘technology is not neutral – it can frame actions and decision-making in ways that divide and reshape the world as well as human understanding and action’.

While one of the main objectives of the PSET CLOUD initiative is to strengthen collaboration across the system through the establishment of an effective shared data and services platform, issues of inclusivity especially of deprived communities must be carefully considered. Additionally, the platform’s analytical capability is expected to be enhanced by linking it to other data sources such as relevant market and industry indicators through interoperability. It is necessary to review the post-school ecosystem in terms of how interoperability can best be used for coordinating and sharing data using common standards for individual citizens, institutions and organisations involved in education and lifelong learning for the labour market. In the past decade the impact of technology on society has been profound and has created immense opportunities for education, training and development, and yet not much has been done to ensure human rights in terms of data privacy and security, regardless of legislation (POPIA in South Africa and General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR internationally). An interdisciplinary discussion is required to understand and explore the protection of individual citizens’ data .

Hence, the importance of relationship building to enable navigating systemic structural challenges and power dynamics that exist between change agents of the PSET CLOUD and the disenfranchised cannot be overemphasised. To create real impact and make a positive difference to those who need it most, requires true empowerment of citizens which in reality is a longer process of building shared social capital. Habisch and Adaui (2013), claim that building social capital happens at three levels: at a personal level, where an individual recognises the value of the community and brokers connection to specific opportunities through their personal network; at an organisational level, where new ways of collaborating and cooperating are explored and developed to provide more opportunity; and at an institutional level, where governance and support processes are changed to provide enduring support and recognition to vulnerable communities to help them participate in society more equitably.

Finally, the question remains whether South Africa has the appropriate level of digital skills and access to technology for all citizens. We recognise that there is a need for citizen empowerment and building citizen agency to enable people to embrace technology and use the PSET CLOUD itself. This will be key to ensuring its successful adoption and impactful use. For this reason, the PSET CLOUD initiative must include a large-scale national advocacy process to ensure that stakeholders are effectively engaged throughout the implementation stages. The initiative must place advocacy as a central current that directs communication from isolated or fringe sectors to create multilevel conversations on the PSET digital ecosystem and the benefits of such a system. What is imperative is that deprived communities and their partners begin to see themselves and their futures in a new light, transformed through a compelling narrative of change which enables new possibilities.

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