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Friday, January 21, 2022

Calls to integrate coding into school curriculum strengthen

Thabo Mohlala

Coding, popularly known as programming, is a critical skill that every child should acquire to keep up with the rapidly changing technological world. This was a central theme yesterday as learners showcased their inventions at the Mathematics and Coding Exhibition held at Indaba Hotel in Fourways.

The event was held under the auspices of ORT South Africa (ORTSA) – an NGO involved in a number of literacy and STEM education initiatives in schools around Gauteng. ORTSA runs extra-mural coding clubs at schools in Alexandra, Ivory Park and Soweto.

Several speakers at the function called on the education authorities to integrate coding into the school curriculum. The current ORTSA coding project resonates with Gauteng education department’s strategy of launching schools of specialisation and modernisation to ensure the province leads as the IT hub. Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi has introduced paperless classrooms in various township-based schools to fulfil this mission.

Learners from Dr. Mathole Motshekga Primary and Ivory Park Secondary Schools presented projects that drew rounds of applause from the audience. First to showcase their coding brilliance were the learners from the former. They used specialised coding kits called Arduino, to invent a purpose-built wheel-chair for paraplegic learners. Not only did they display their understanding of the coding aspects but they also stunned the audience as they demonstrated with an effortless easy how some of the features functions.

One of these is the LED light resistor programmed to automatically switch on when it is dark or off in daylight. Also intriguing is the rain sensor; when it rains the device activates a canvassed roof to cover the head of the disabled learner. It automatically retracts itself when the rain stops.

The Ivory Park Secondary School learners’ presentation equally drew gasps of awe and disbelief with their design of a digital timetable. They said this was motivated by the realisation that most teachers skip periods or stay overtime in class. The learners relied on the ‘microbits’ to design an interactive timetable that will send a notice in real time to a teacher that his or her class is about to start or is over.

The gadget is coded to enable the principal or a member of a school management team to communicate, via Bluetooth pairing, with the head class learner to find out if a particular teacher has been to a class or not. All these can be done with a touch of a button. The learners said this would not only improve teaching and learning as teachers would go to their classes but it also saves time.

Cynthia Sebogwane, who supervises the team, underscored the importance of coding at schools.

“Initially, when the learners approached me with this project, I dismissed them saying it will never work. But I changed my mind and urged them to pursue it while making sure I help where I can. And what you see here today is the direct outcome of their hard work and commitment to conclude this. I am impressed with their final product,” said Sebogwane.

Julius Olubodun, a grade 10 maths facilitator at Kwabhekilanga Secondary School, gave a presentation that highlighted the centrality of maths in innovation. He said some of the world’s admired and iconic inventions and other functional electronic gadgets have been designed using key mathematical concepts such as algorithms and parabola, to mention but two.

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