Equal access to tech may answer SA’s problems

The South African education system needs to keep pace with these next-generation subjects, says the writer. Picture: Jacques Naude/Independent Newspapers

The South African education system needs to keep pace with these next-generation subjects, says the writer. Picture: Jacques Naude/Independent Newspapers

Published Feb 6, 2024


Kate Groch

It’s music to to our ears that coding and robotics is being rolled out as a subject in government schools from 2024.

The South African education system needs to keep pace with these next-generation subjects if we are to be competitive – and confident – participants in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

However, the dream of tech-savvy classrooms is, in some cases, out of step with the on-the-ground reality, and this is where the importance of forging partnerships between the public and private sectors and civil society comes to the fore.

We run an education non-profit in rural Mpumalanga and the Free State that has foregrounded digital literacy as key to unlocking the power of wonder-filled learning for children.

It’s “cool” to play games on computers, with children learning while having fun.

As the Good Work Foundation, we have prioritised technology-led, human-facilitated learning in the knowledge that millions of young South Africans will enter the labour market in the coming years and need the skills to thrive in the 4IR-driven 21st-century workplace – or risk being left behind.

We are fortunate to have a robust network of corporate and private donors, as well as game lodges bordering the Kruger National Park, that support us in bringing the joy of learning to young people, including helping school leavers to access work and study opportunities.

For more than a decade, we have taught what has now become the coding and robotics curriculum to pupils at the 29 government schools to which we provide free supplementary lessons.

Every day, our staff revel in seeing the eyes of 10- and 11-year-olds from remote villages light up with the thrill of discovery when they learn how to build a robot out of Lego – and then program it to move according to their commands.

It enhances logical thinking, creativity and innovation. It teaches children how to collaborate to solve problems. Beyond computer science and web development, it opens the avenues of animation, design and storytelling. It’s not just coding experts who are needed in a 4IR world but creative thinkers, too. It’s an exciting and ever-changing playground to frolic in.

When my daughter,who is artistic by nature and thought she couldn’t do coding because it’s supposedly for maths boffins, joined one of our coding exercises on campus, she ended up having a wonderful time designing all the creatures in the game. There are opportunities for everyone.

Imagine if all video games were made solely by mathematicians? They’d be as boring as anything! You need the artists, performers and storytellers to work alongside the software engineers to bring the ideas to life.

We are making strides in our small pockets of influence; however, this is a drop in the ocean compared to what’s needed in the country. Resources in most non-Model C public schools are inadequate, and even where they do have computer labs, many teachers have not been adequately trained to conduct lessons using the infrastructure.

While the Department of Basic Education is making strides in empowering teachers to make optimal use of smart classrooms, and the intention behind this year’s roll-out of coding and robotics for grades 4 to 6 and Grade 8 is noble and forward-looking, introducing this subject in every government school in the country will inevitably prove challenging.

Over a decade of working closely with government players and the private sector, we have realised that close cross-sector relationships result in the best possible education outcomes for marginalised learners. And we have proof that it works. Teachers and principals at the schools in our rural network report improved results from their learners, who are faced with the difficult transition from mother-tongue learning to English-medium learning.

We’re flipping the script to give them a fighting chance. At least once a week, we transport them to our campuses, and our trained facilitators help learners get to grips with English and maths in a fun, interactive way.

* Groch is the CEO of the Good Work Foundation

Cape Times

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