South Africa’s ‘Silicon Cape’ is where some of the world’s leading technology is developed. In fact, Amazon’s groundbreaking cloud-services were pioneered in Cape Town! Yet at the same time, South Africa’s youth unemployment rate means that a third of South Africans are unemployed.  Youth are the most affected by unemployment: more than half of those unemployed in the country are aged 15-24 years old. 

Although our tech industry offers great employment potential, South Africa’s education system is not training young South Africans with the skills they need to be able to take hold of that opportunity. 

In South African, education quality is the most unequal in the world and deeply divided by race, as a legacy of apartheid.

For every 200 white children who start school, 10 complete school with the grades to study Engineering at university. For black children, only 1 in every two hundred will have the opportunity. These numbers point to the fact that the economic benefits of our tech industry will further perpetuate racial inequality unless we address our education system. 

The opportunity lies in the fact that one doesn’t need an Engineering degree to be employed in the tech industry. Coding is a practical skill and one doesn’t need a university degree to be an employable software developer. 

The education institution that I founded, CodeSpace Academy, offers short courses for young people who want to train as web and software developers. In as little as 15 weeks, a student can have gained an employable skill. 

The impact is that young people can get a professional, high growth job in a much shorter time span than going through university. Alternative education models let young people shape their career in ways that work for them. 

The story of one of our graduates, Ahmed, motivates me to keep growing CodeSpace Academy so that more young South Africans can be inside Cape Town’s exciting tech companies. 

Looking to the future, the fourth industrial revolution means that it is no longer just a few people who need to specialise in technology skills. The fourth industrial revolution requires a broad base of people who are able to leverage technology to enhance their area of expertise. 

This means that in the same way we must all be able to read, write and count, soon employers will also expect employees to be able to code. 

The South African government announced this year that coding and robotics will now be integrated into our national curriculum. CodeSpace is now working with schools to bring coding and robotics into the school timetable. We’re transforming IT classes into fun learning environments where learners can explore and create.  We’re teaching learners robotics with educational robotics kits that we’ve manufactured. What’s great about our robotics kits is that they give learners hands-on experience with computer science, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering, so it exposes learners to a broad variety of skills including programming, building physical machines and understanding electronics.

Robotics is an especially engaging medium in that it’s tactile and visual: a line of code that you write can make an actual 3D object move. This means that for young learners, lessons are made visible and memorable as their robots’ come to life’ and move around.

Working with highschoolers is so important, because at this age young people are making critical decisions about what they want to do with their lives.  

As a young woman, I have a special interest in empowering young women to be leaders and innovators. The tech industry is vastly male dominated and misses out on the value that women could be bringing to the industry. 

I believe that we need to be intentional about transforming the way educational spaces feel in order to attract a broader group of people to the field of IT. 

As part of CodeSpace’s ecosystem, we run the Code for Cape Town community which specifically works to make sure that young women are included in the tech industry. Our work is now creating a positive cycle, where our alumnae are successful young tech leaders who are inspiring younger girls to start exploring the world of code. 

We are part of the global challenge to re-calibrate the learning divide. 

The technologically powered “21st century” workplace offers the chance that individuals are able to leapfrog over societal inequities by fast tracking into employment, but it also poses the risk that the learning divide will become even greater, and societal inequities further entrenched. 

To see a more just and equitable society, we need to put in the hard work of building highly localised education solutions that address the root causes of inequities in specific contexts.

Contact Emma via LinkedIn or on [email protected] 

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Royal Commonwealth Society. 


Emma Dicks is a social entrepreneur whose work seeks to bridge the learning divide within the developing world and equip young people with the skills they need to actively participate in the global tech economy. 

Emma's work has received global acclaim from Fortune's Most Power Women's network, Google, The Shuttleworth Foundation, Mail & Guardian and HM the Queen who presented Emma with the Queen’s Young Leader Award in 2015. Emma is an Associate Fellow of the RCS. 

Contact Emma via LinkedIn or on [email protected]