At the recent Innovation Africa conference, many African educational ministries were talking about ‘readying’ their learners for the 4th Industrial Revolution and developing 21st Century Skills to advance their economies. These skills are an undefined issue, which many education ministries are attempting to solve through providing digital content and devices in the hope that these skills are acquired as a side effect of technology usage. In Botswana, the MOBE initiated a pilot of digital devices and content, with Microsoft and partners, to foster these skills. In Zimbabwe, a new curriculum is rolling out with a subject Internet Communication Technology, including basic digital literacy as well as sections on digital citizenship and coding skills. The recent curriculum reform in Ghana sees a strong focus on ICT-integration as well as a new subject Computing, which covers ICT (operating a computer, word processing, databases, etc.) as well as internet skills. Nigeria is a tech-aspirational market with a keen interest in internet technology and the entrepreneurial opportunities it offers. In South Africa, the message around the 4th Industrial Revolution is consistently reiterated through government as well as party political communication channels as well as ongoing communication from the Department of Basic Education
South African Coding and Robotics Curriculum
The South African government is developing curricula for coding and robotics for grades R to 9, in order, according to the basic education minister, Angie Motshekga, to create sustainable industrialisation and keep pace with the world.
In 2011 I initiated a project – in collaboration with the eThekwini Municipality and with funding from the Goethe Institut – to teach 21st Century Skills to learners in township schools around KwaZulu-Natal. Run at four schools with existing computer laboratories, the included a practical task-based section and an online e-learning component.
Through funding assistance from the Goethe Institut the programme is being rolled out to township and rural schools in a bid to create opportunities to enhance ICT skills among the youth and generate interest in their own history and culture. The School’s project will be run at four township and rural schools where there are computer laboratories, two schools during the 2nd semester 2011 and two schools during the 1st semester 2012. The pilot project will be run with a practical task-based section and an online e-learning component.This report looks at the first half of the project, recently completed.
A mentor worked with a group of 10 students, from one school at a time. They introduced the programme, showed students how the website works, provided training on interviewing and story-writing and provided mentorship to the students with regards to their story writing. Working with the teacher responsible for this project, the mentor also set weekly themes for story collection (e.g. the story of my family, the area I grew up in, etc.) and helped mark the stories.
On-line e-learning section
Students loaded their own stories and images onto the Ulwazi website and learnt to assign appropriate categories to them. They also completed an online test at the end of the eight weeks, with questions set that required the student to use the Ulwazi wiki to answer. There were also a number of questions on the ICT skills that students picked up through the programme.
Response from the participating schools
From the Students
“I would like to say thank you to the campus manager for accepting this opportunity so that we can participate. A big thank you to Mr Mchunu, Project Leader Mrs Greyling, our mentors Mr Zuma and Mabusi Kgwete, mentor for Menzi School, our technicians Mr Mathebula and Mr Niall McNulty for assisting us. To be honest this has been fun. We enjoyed participating in this project. We gained a lot, we have had huge excitement through this. We gained a variety of skills such as working in a team… we also gained more skills like creating Gmail accounts. We gained researching skills… how to use search engines like Google and how to write a query so that you can get the relevant information…
We also learnt more skills like how to interview people, how to use questionnaires to obtain more information and how to use libraries and so on. We gained communication skills like when you research and approach different people from different cultures, you cannot just say you are from Ulwazi, I want this information, because some people will think that you want to expose their personal lives or maybe you want to make or gain some profit out of them.
We had to be very polite, we had to respect. We knew how to greet, how to ask for something, how to introduce ourselves, how to make somebody understand what is it you want to talk about and how then it is important. After persuading them to feel that they are part of the programme is how we gained information.
We also learned how to use Ulwazi website, writing skills and so on. There is a lot, and I can assure everyone that we are ready for the industry, for working with other people using the skills that we gained. Thank you!”– Thandwayinkosi Myeza at Elangeni College.
“My fellow schoolmates, the problem is that I’m too excited, I don’t know where to start. On behalf of the CAT classmates we would like to thank the programme of Ulwazi, it’s been really a wonderful eight weeks. We learned a lot and some things that we never knew before. It’s like, for us we did know how to use internet. We really learned incredible skills and a big thank you to you all.”– Ntobeko Cele at Menzi High School.
From the Principals
“Words cannot be sufficient to express our appreciation of the project. What has been done by this project, you have assisted us because… this project has broken the boundaries of ignorance… we have learners who will understand that learning is not dependent on teaching. These are two different concepts – teaching and learning. You can be taught for 45 hours and at the end of the week when we check, there was no learning. But you can learn and without any teaching. With what they have taught you now, they have given you tools which must be used for you to learn.”
“You have assisted us because you have added value to what we are doing to ensure that we have learners that are empowered. Thank you very much for the project. As Mrs Ngema said, we have to take this project from this campus to other 7 campuses with +- 5000 learners. We can’t only benefit KwaMashu Campus. We need to steal this idea and see how do we take this idea to Ndwedwe Campus as a first priority because of their location. They need to be exposed to activities like this. I will appreciate it and then we can focus on Qadi campus and others can follow.”
“Really, I am excited. I will report this project to senior management. The head of your department Mr Thembinkosi Ngcobo is the college’s treasurer. I will also inform him about what you have done. I will give him feedback because he must know about what his soldiers are doing on the ground.”
Thank you very much [to the students] for being ambassadors of the college. Thank you to everyone, the municipality. The project should be the start of bigger things to come. Thank you!” – Mr Mbili, Rector of Elangeni College.
“We are here just to celebrate the work well done, mission accomplished. Ours is to receive our visitors and to listen to the message and make sure that what has been contributed to the school is really taken care of and becomes a lifetime investment. So I’m sure the few learners that have been trained will cascade this information to the majority of the school learners.”
“Thank you! We thank the funders of the project for making a contribution to our school. We can only teach the few learning areas that we are teaching. The type of skill and the type of knowledge that have been given to our learners is really a lot and we are sure that the entire school will benefit from the few who have learned the skill. We really have to say thank you so much, I know you have so much patience and I know it has been taking more of the mentor’s hours [than planned] because they used to remain even after four [in the afternoons] to continue finishing their work. It has proved to us that it is something they are passionate about. Finally I want to promise the municipality, the funders and the facilitators of this programme that the seed that they have planted will really grow, it will blossom and I can assure as a school we are always thirsty for the knowledge. Intellectual development is our specialization. This special skill is also adding value to the work that we do as a school we are really grateful. We would like to say please keep it up, do it to others. And we promise you that you invested in a very fertile ground at Menzi High School.” – Mr Mshololo, Principal at Menzi High School.
Extracts from the project blog
“Most of the children did not know what an email address was and for some it was their first time to log in to the internet. You should have seen their faces. ” – from First Day of Ulwazi School’s Project at Menzi High School.
“Enthusiastic students couldn’t wait to talk about Thursday, which is the day when everyone will be getting down with the project and our first activities.” – from Ulwazi Project Launch at Elangeni College
“The first two weeks reminded us that the project is mainly about researching and this needs time to get the right information. ” – from Lessons Learned so far!
“The team has been been diligently doing their research on the two themes and have done well in them. The delays have come when the typing of the stories had to be done with limited time access on the computers. ” – from Progress of the project.
“They have been working in small groups to research their stories and I hope everybody is going to learn something about their area and about the learners who participated in this project from their family histories.” – from Preparing for Ulwazi School’s Test.