Coding, robotics curriculum resumes at SA schools

Moloko Mathopo
By Moloko Mathopo, ITWeb intern
Johannesburg, 27 May 2022

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) is resuming SA’s coding and robotics curriculum pilot, which it halted due to the disruption in learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

So said DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga in a telephonic interview with ITWeb.

The pandemic saw schools being closed during the hard lockdown, and schools later implemented rotational timetables, which also impacted learning.

“The trial implementation started early this year, as schools returned to full capacity, but we are going to start where we left off in 2020, in order to re-orientate teachers and re-activate the system,” Mhlanga said.

The pilot will be implemented at 25 000 schools that consist of about 14 million learners and 420 000 teachers, he noted.

“It will take time, as we need to provide training in all the districts.”

To address SA’s critical skills gap, government has made concerted efforts to increase skills development and competencies to prepare learners for the fourth industrial revolution.

As a result, at the end of 2017, the department started a framework to introduce coding and robotics as a compulsory subject in all schools.

According to the annual performance plan 2022/2023, which was released by the department recently, the full-scale implementation for Grade R to Grade 3, and Grade 7 is planned for the academic year 2023.

For other grades from 4 to 9, the two subjects of robotics and coding will be on the pilot from 2022 to 2023, and full-scale implementation in these grades will be seen between 2024 and 2025.

The DBE notes that as coding and robotics is a new initiative, the focus will be on the upskilling of teachers to be trained to teach this new subject in collaboration with higher education institutions.

Mhlanga pointed out the DBE will be working hand-in-hand with universities, such as UNISA and the University of Johannesburg, to provide learners with digital skills, as some schools don't have the needed equipment.

He encouraged universities to help in creating a platform for learners to gain knowledge and practical experience in coding and robotics.

“The new curriculum will be taught by existing teachers after they have been trained. The department will ensure schools are equipped to teach coding and robotics as a subject, and that all equipment and computers will be in a safe and secure environment,” he added.

“Despite the challenges that we face, such as load-shedding and theft in our schools, we are positive that we will find solutions so that we don’t compromise the learners' future, as we are also determined to prepare the learners for the digital era.”

Learning revolution

Moira de Roche, non-executive director of the Institute of IT Professionals SA and chairperson of IFIP International Professional Practice Partnership, is of the view that learning to code helps the learner to think logically and develop cognitive abilities.

“Combining coding with robotics allows learners to produce something they can easily see working (the robot), thus making the subject relevant and fun,” she says.

“Hopefully, in the next five years, we will see technology used to really enhance education. This requires a significant mindset change, but it will revolutionise learning because it will create a real-life environment where people learn. It’s important to remember that technology develops exponentially, but humans are only able to think linearly.

“If we don’t accelerate the uptake of technologies for learning: what we teach and how we teach it, we will always be behind the curve, but the gap will grow.

“I believe the DBE and provincial education departments should engage with technology futurists to get an understanding of what the world will look like in five to 10 years. If they don’t, they will deliver learning for a world that does not exist,” De Roche concludes.