University of the Western Cape: UWC’s first Coding and Robotics Club is ready to inspire South Africa’s future roboteers

Coding is coming closer to “tomorrow’s scientists” living in under-resourced communities near to the University of the Western Cape.

The Science Learning Centre for Africa (SLCA), as an extension of the university’s School of Science and Maths Education (SSME), has launched a Coding and Robotics Club that will train teachers in coding and robotics, exposing learners to cutting-edge technology.

Sheer delight as Sukúme Cabane, a Grade 8 pupil from Rosendaal High in Delft, fulfils her dream of flying a drone at the launch of UWC’s Coding and Robotics Club. Tashreeq Hanslo, one of the students involved in the club, keeps a watchful eye.
Eight schools from areas including Belhar, Mitchell’s Plain, Delft and Khayelitsha are involved in the club’s pilot phase that offers short programmes for teachers in coding and robotics.

Speaking at Saturday’s event, which also marked the culmination of National Science Week, Professor Josef de Beer, Director of the SLCA, said that while South Africa has made great strides in science and technology, more must be done to improve science and maths education. “We need creative, innovative scientists with entrepreneurial mindsets,” he said.

He urged teachers to focus on self-directed and problem-based learning, and highlighted that coding and robotics, which will become part of the Department of Basic Education’s national curriculum for the Foundation and Intermediate Phases from 2023, could enhance such self-directed learning. The SLCA strives to popularise science by exposing teachers and learners to innovative thinking. For example, it provides local schools with an origami-based microscope, the so-called Foldscope microscope, costing only $1, or R17, which teachers can use to do microscopic experiments. This commitment was also echoed by Prof Rajendran Govender, Dean of Education, who mentioned that the Faculty will be moving into a new building later this month, with state-of-the-art facilities to ensure world-class teaching and learning.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic, Professor Vivienne Lawack said in a recorded message that UWC is committed to inspiring a new generation of scientists, engineers and ICT specialists. She noted that the launch coincided with Women’s Day, on 9 August, and urged girls to consider science as a career. Currently, only 13% of South African graduates with qualifications in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, are women.

Addressing the “future roboteers” from several schools attending the launch, Dr Tony Williams, Curro curriculum manager: science, technology, engineering, art, maths, design/drones (STEAMD), said robotics in South Africa is not only sustainable, it is “exploding”, with innovative technology being used in various fields.

He delighted learners with videos showing what robots can do, and explained how children from local communities have already achieved considerable success locally and internationally by applying their knowledge of robotics and artificial intelligence. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here and change comes very quickly. We are already talking about the Fifth Industrial Revolution.”

Mr Jonathan Freece, Western Cape Education Department Coordinator of Coding and Robotics, encouraged learners to “future-proof” themselves by learning as much as they can about science and robotics. “The subjects you are currently doing won’t be enough for the jobs of the future.”

The club is a “dream come true” for schools in communities without access to robotics and science resources, said teacher educator at UWC’s Faculty of Education, Ms Nonhlanhla Shandu-Omukunyi. “The learners from Curro and Khayelitsha, for example, are very far apart. But by joining the club, we can bring them closer.”

For Sukúme Cabane, a Grade 8 learner from Rosendaal High in Delft, the highlight of the launch was the much-anticipated opportunity to fly a drone. “I have wanted to fly a drone since I was in Grade 3. I am definitely considering a career in science,” she said. The learners were able to engage with the drones and robots at the event.


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