SITA brings coding to Free State schools

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 25 Apr 2019

The State IT Agency (SITA) has selected five Free State schools to pilot its software engineering academy, with the first opening at the Kopanong Secondary School at Turflaagte in Bloemfontein.

Dubbed the SITA School of Software Engineering, the academy will equip learners with software development, coding and other ICT skills. Furthermore, SITA will provide 40 computers per laboratory, connectivity, a curriculum, mentors and technical resources.

Government has been mulling introducing basic coding in the country's education system. In March, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) confirmed it is developing curricula for coding and robotics for grades R to nine.

According to DBE, the curricula will provide learners with an understanding of coding and robotics, and develop their skills and competencies to prepare them for the fourth industrial revolution.

Explaining the SITA School of Software Engineering curriculum, the agency says it developed a qualitative curriculum in conjunction with support from the Central University of Technology in the Free State.

Young men and women have been appointed as mentors, states SITA. "Eight youth trained and skilled in ICT were appointed and given employment by SITA to interpret, roll out and implement the newly acquired ICT curriculum.

"They were appointed and resumed duty on 4 March, and they have already started adding value, having concluded their induction programmes, and are currently working on refining some of the ICT solutions SITA has in the pipeline."

SITA highlights this is a four-year ICT school programme, and in this first phase learners from grades eight to 11 will be able to participate. "At the end of the four-year curriculum, all successful participants will be eligible for the national skills pipeline to positively contribute to academia, the world of work and small business development.

"We're proud that SITA's new academy will be part of the mainstreaming of the ICT curriculum. We envisage further expansion as we continue to leverage our ICT capabilities to transform communities."

Partnering for change

To select the participating schools in the pilot of the ICT academy, SITA partnered with the Free State education department.

SITA reveals the five benefiting schools were chosen based on their impressive academic track record, their location in five different district municipalities, and for the exceptional work ethic of learners, educators, governing bodies and parents.

Besides Kopanong Secondary, the other schools are: Thabo-Vuyo Secondary in Rouxville, Lekgarietse Secondary in Welkom, Rebatla-Thuto Secondary in Koppies and Mohaladitwe Secondary in Makwane, QwaQwa.

Each school is a stellar reminder of what is achieved when community and stakeholders work together, notes SITA. "To build on our work of establishing ICT labs at schools, we ventured into this new initiative to establish the software engineering skills development school.

"The SITA School of Software Engineering is a relevant and focused national initiative with a set curriculum and mentors that will be assessed and accredited. Graduates upon completion of these programmes will be eligible for SITA internships, bursaries or entrepreneurial opportunities.

"The completed sites to host the ICT academy stand as beautiful reminder of what we and communities can all collectively achieve by working together."

Although SITA plans to have five academies in total in the Free State, only three are ready. "The other two sites are under construction, to remove and replace both the furniture and fixtures, and prepare the sites to accommodate the state-of-the-art computer laboratories, complete with connectivity, upgraded physical security, and the heat and ventilation apparatus."

Industry 4.0-ready

The new academy initiative, according to SITA, supports president Cyril Ramaphosa's call to equip the current and future workforce with requisite infrastructure and skills to respond to the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

It supports the DBE's vision to change the syllabus and curriculum at all public schools to reflect the elements of the 4IR and prepare the country for the changes that will come with the digital revolution.

SITA states: "This is the age of 4IR, which includes the Internet of things, artificial intelligence and robotics, and our country is standing on the brink of history. This initiative is supporting this national move in the country to bring about the kind of content in our syllabus to ensure our learners are given a foundation to become leaders in this sector, employable and bankable as emerging businesses of the future.

"Given the consultation and engagements, the education department in the Free State has embraced the new ICT curriculum, and new schedules are being worked on in these SITA-targeted schools to accommodate the new material."

Once the Free State has inaugurated the SITA School of Software Engineering, the agency has targeted KwaZulu-Natal to roll out this initiative next, with further plans to take it national, it concludes. "In the same way SITA has over 30 ICT laboratories across all nine provinces in the country, we will reach the target in the future."