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Shoprite Foundation supports learners’ robotics aspirations

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 02 Feb 2024
A Mountview Secondary School pupil engages with the robotics kit in the school’s new lab.
A Mountview Secondary School pupil engages with the robotics kit in the school’s new lab.

Mountview Secondary School in KwaZulu-Natal is looking to pilot coding and robotics on a more formal basis in its curriculum, says principal Indran Govender.

This, after a new robotics laboratory was officially opened at the school this week, in partnership with the Shoprite Foundation.

The Shoprite Foundation set aside a R1.6 million investment for robotics infrastructure, equipment, course work and teaching for robotics labs at Mountview and Verulam high schools in KwaZulu-Natal.

Speaking during the livestreamed launch event, Govender said for subjects like robotics, IT or computer applications technology (CAT), which are offered in further education and training phase, learners are ‘lost’ earlier in the education system, before they reach secondary school.

This is despite these subjects being key for the future and the fourth industrial revolution, he stated.

After running a pilot project that identified 40 learners that selected IT or CAT as a subject in grade 10, Govender said the school found there was a lot of interest and enthusiasm for these subjects.

“The infrastructure and provisions given to us by Shoprite are going to help us meet our objective to reach the grade eight and grade nine learners, and close that gap. I’m in conversation with the subject advisor for IT [at our school] and we are looking at piloting coding and robotics on a more formal basis – where it will be structured into the curriculum.

“We’re also looking at getting our neighbouring schools – we’ve identified four – that will spearhead this programme.”

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) is looking to make coding and robotics a new component of the national curriculum.

The DBE previously stated that 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 use these skills to solve everyday problems.

In March 2019, the department revealed it was developing a coding and robotics curriculum pilot for grades R to 9. It also indicated the curriculum would be piloted in 1 000 schools across the country.

After the pilot was halted due to the disruption in learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was revealed in 2021 that the DBE was “making headway”, with a draft of the curriculum soon to be gazetted.

The progress of the DBE’s pilot project and when it will be formalised in the national curriculum have yet to be communicated.

Future-fit education

According to the Shoprite Foundation, sponsoring the robotics labs is the first phase of its technology support for various schools around the country.

To deliver the laboratories, the foundation commissioned Sifiso Edtech, a South African company that provides turnkey robotics hubs, providing infrastructure, robotics kits, teaching material and training.

The kits come with over 10 models each and include resources the learners and teachers need, from microcontrollers and actuators, to gyroscopes. They are modular, allowing schools to create their own builds. Face-to-face and online training for teachers and lesson plans, presentations and worksheets are provided.

The foundation also donated laptop computers and tablets. At Mountview, it provided a bespoke consumer-studies laboratory, to encourage entrepreneurial endeavour among learners.

Speaking at the opening of the Mountview robotics lab, Maude Modise, Shoprite Group GM for enterprise and supplier development and Shoprite Foundation managing trustee, noted the two schools were selected to launch the robotics initiative as the DBE is piloting coding and robotics as a subject.

“The groundwork was in place, and importantly, there was interest and enthusiasm, so we saw an opportunity to help by providing training and equipment, and adapting the existing computer rooms into fully-functional robotics laboratories.

“We invested in this initiative because we realised the role we have to play in society, in terms of educating the youth, hunger relief and all the other initiatives that we have, but specifically we use AI everyday within our businesses; whether it is getting fresh produce to the stores or to analyse any other data.

“We know that we can play a bigger role in terms of equipping future youth and future learners that will partake in the modern economy in terms of what they will be doing in the workplace.”