SA’s coding, robotics curriculum goes public

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 12 Jun 2024
The Department of Basic Education has amended the national curriculum to include coding and robotics.
The Department of Basic Education has amended the national curriculum to include coding and robotics.

Government’s efforts to have a coding and robotics learning framework from as early as grade R in public schools across SA have been solidified.

This, is after the Department of Basic Education (DBE) gazetted an amendment to the National Curriculum Statement Grades R-12, which is the policy statement for learning and teaching in South African schools.

In the Government Gazette published on 7 June, DBE minister Angie Motshekga approved the amendment to the national policy pertaining to the Programme and Promotion Requirements Grades R-12, a component of the National Curriculum Statement, to include coding and robotics in the grades R-9 curriculum under the National Education Policy Act of 1996.

This move has been welcomed by the National Youth ICT Council, the youth-governed, non-profit organisation that seeks to drive inclusive digital transformation and advocate for youth economic participation.

Digital literacy drive

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

The DBE believes a coding and robotics curriculum will develop learners’ ability to solve problems, think critically, work collaboratively and creatively, function in a digital and information-driven world, apply digital and ICT skills, and transfer these skills to solve everyday problems.

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

In March 2019, the department, charged with the country’s basic education, announced it is planning a pilot for a coding and robotics curriculum for grades R to 9. At the time, the department’s officials revealed it would be done over a few years, piloting it in some of the country’s provinces.

To roll out the programme, the DBE identified civil society, academic institutions, businesses, as well as various other private sector partners. Structurally, the DBE’s national coding and robotics curriculum was organised across the foundation (grades R-3), intermediate (grades 4-6) and senior (grades 5-9) phases.

The National Youth ICT Council emphasises that digital literacy has become mandatory in the global landscape. In SA, in particular, digital literacy for learners and teachers is increasingly becoming an indispensable element of children's right to education, it states.

Says council spokesperson Aluwani Chokoe: “We welcome the efforts by the South African government to ensure public schools produce technologically-advanced learners who will be able to use robotic solutions and smart technologies to solve the various challenges in their communities. This is a positive step towards building the digital society that we all envisage as South Africans.

“This amendment to the national policy will not only ensure learners are prepared for the future of work, but equally afford them an opportunity to participate in the digital economy at a young age.”

Teacher preparedness

“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 stored safely and securely,” the DBE previously told Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Basic Education.

While there are schools that have piloted the programme, the youth council has urged the DBE to accelerate the building of the necessary infrastructure.

“Chief among the frequent reports we will be requiring from the Department of [Basic] Education is progress made in relation to building secure, dedicated coding and robotics labs, internet access, hardware components and the training of teachers. This will determine areas that require intervention that the various stakeholders can assist in.

“The National Youth ICT Council calls on all the ICT stakeholders and institutions to lend a helping hand to the South African government with the various resources and expertise for teachers across the country, particularly in rural parts of the country. This will fast-track the implementation process,” it concludes.