Local pupils to participate in Silicon Valley hackathon

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Ten high school students were selected to participate in the Silicon Valley-based hackathon organised by Symantec, UNODC, and Africa Teen Geeks.
Ten high school students were selected to participate in the Silicon Valley-based hackathon organised by Symantec, UNODC, and Africa Teen Geeks.

Global cyber security firm Symantec, in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Africa Teen Geeks, will be hosting a three-day hackathon in Silicon Valley, aimed at combating drug abuse, crime and terrorism.

The UNODC is a global initiative that fights against illicit drugs, international crime and terrorism, and Africa Teen Geeks is a local non-profit organisation that provides computer science training in schools and underserved communities. The two parties collaborated last year to co-host a hackathon for high school pupils aimed at solving issues centred on the rule of law.

The hackathon, which takes place from 9 to 11 July 2018 at Symantec's Mountain View campus in San Francisco, California, will focus on criminal justice and crime prevention solutions, allowing students to develop educational games that teach values around criminal justice to their peers.

The hackathon is the final round of competition for the winners of three regional hackathons that took place in SA, Indonesia and Bolivia earlier in the year. After these contests, 25 high school students were selected from among the three countries as winners, and invited to travel to Silicon Valley for the final hackathon, which is sponsored by Symantec.

Lindiwe Matlali, founder of Africa Teen Geeks, explains: "Africa Teens is excited to be participating on the hackathon exposing our kids to Silicon valley and hopefully inspiring them to come back home and become Africa's next tech innovators and tech entrepreneurs.

"The theme of the hackathon is cyber security and Internet security. We want young participants to understand the power and also the dangers of the Internet. The South African team consists of 10 children from disadvantaged communities who participated in our Saturday ICT classes at the Unisa labs nationally. The team, aged between 13 to 17 years, come from Cosmo City, Soweto and Orange Farm."

In addition to the students, members of UNODC, South Africa government representatives, chaperones and mentors will all be in attendance. Symantec chief human resources officer Amy Cappellanti-Wolf will speak at the event.

The hackathon is part of the Global Programme for the Implementation of the Doha Declaration, which came out of the 13th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, held in Qatar in 2015. Under the Doha Declaration, UNODC's Education for Justice (E4J) initiative was developed to create and disseminate educational materials in UNODC-mandated areas of crime prevention and criminal justice across the primary, secondary and tertiary education levels.

"We're thrilled to host these bright young minds on Symantec's campus," says Cappellanti-Wolf. "As a world-leading cyber security organisation, it's exciting to watch the next generation of computer science professionals improve their coding skills and develop products for the purpose of crime prevention."

The E4J initiative, according to the UN, helps educators teach the next generation to better understand and address problems that can undermine the rule of law and encourage students to actively engage in their communities and future professions.

"The hackathon encourages this engagement by allowing students to play a hands-on role in developing educational games that focus on justice and law issues," it adds.

Since its inception three years ago, Africa Teen Geeks says it has had an impact on over 40 000 South African children through its ICT skills development initiatives, which include Girl Geek, Computer Science Week and Knit2code.

The ICT skills development organisation recently partnered with the Gauteng department of basic education to pilot a mechatronics, coding and robotics initiative in Tshwane schools, which will kick off from January 2019.

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