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Skills gap now global

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A recent report has revealed that education systems worldwide are only just beginning to help learners cultivate the digital skills they need to excel in in increasingly digitised societies.

A new report from the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development entitled “Digital skills for life and work” shows that education systems worldwide are only just beginning to help learners cultivate the digital skills they need to excel in in increasingly digitised societies.

The report highlights the emergence of a new global skills gap where gender, class, geography and age can have a huge impact on whether a person is able to harness new technologies or not. It also presents strategies for ensuring all groups of people can develop these skills.

Underscoring the importance of the new report, Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, urged the Broadband Commission and countries around the world to take heed of the recommendations and “support the development of a new generation of ‘digital citizens,’ with the right skills for life, work and engagement in the connected communities of today and tomorrow”.

The report was drafted by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development’s Working Group on Education, co-chaired by Ms Bokova, and John Galvin, Vice President and General Manager for Worldwide Government and Education at Intel. It identifies essential digital skills and competencies from basic skills to high-level professional skills.

Findings show that the development of these digital skills depends on a number of factors such as appropriate involvement of government, blending traditional ‘non-digital’ education approaches and digital applications, bridging formal and non-formal digital skills provision, and enhancing the digital competencies of teachers.

The report also focuses special attention to the often overlooked ‘complementary’ skills required to navigate technology-driven societies, such as an understanding of privacy considerations; knowledge of how to engage as responsible digital citizens; and awareness of how digital technology, big data and algorithms are shaping society.

Included in the report are policy recommendations that advise for governments to:

  • Maintain public involvement in the increasingly commercially driven space of digital skills development.
  • Redouble efforts to address inequalities in the provision of digital skills and competencies.
  • Generate increased data on digital skills across populations to identify and fill gaps through education.
  • Promote open digital resources and address needs not met by commercial providers.
  • Foster partnerships with various stakeholders—including industry partners—to expand and improve the quality and relevance of digital skills development initiatives.

The report also includes a rich compendium of case studies illustrating successful examples of public and private sector working together in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America to ensure that all people have the skills and competencies they need to participate in the knowledge-based economy of the future.

“Cumulatively, the case studies demonstrate that the health of local economies is improved by access to technology and – equally vital – knowledge of how to use this technology for social good” said Mr Galvin.

The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development was established in 2010 and comprises more than 50 leaders from across a range of government and industry sectors. They are committed to actively supporting countries, United Nations experts and non-governmental organizations to fully leverage the huge potential of information and communications technologies to drive national sustainable development goals strategies in key areas like education, healthcare, gender equality and environmental management.

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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By 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals

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Extensive load-shedding, combined with the theft of cell tower backup batteries and copper wire, is placing a massive strain on mobile network providers.

MTN says the majority of MTN’S sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the system for several hours when local power goes out and the mains go down. 

“With power outages on the rise, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected and MTN has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to maintain communication for customers, despite the lack of electrical power,” the operator said in a statement today.

However, according to Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, at MTN SA, “The high frequency of the cycles of load shedding have meant batteries were unable to fully recharge. They generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category, and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge.”

An additional challenge is that criminals and criminal syndicates are placing networks across the country at risk. Batteries, which can cost R28 000 per battery and upwards, are sought after on black markets – especially in neighbouring countries. 

“Although MTN has improved security and is making strides in limiting instances of theft and vandalism with the assistance of the police, the increase in power outages has made this issue even more pressing,” says O’Sullivan.

Ernest Paul, General Manager: Network Operations at SA’s leading network provider MTN, says the brazen theft of batteries is an industry-wide problem and will require a broader initiative driven by communities, the private sector, police and prosecutors to bring it to a halt.

“Apart from the cost of replacing the stolen batteries and upgrading the broken infrastructure, communities suffer as the network degrades without the back-up power. This is due to the fact that any coverage gaps need to be filled. The situation is even more dire with the rolling power cuts expected due to Eskom load shedding.”

Loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people. On hub sites, network coverage to entire suburbs and regions can be lost.

Click here to read more about efforts to combat copper theft.

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