DBE to use AI platform to support robotics curriculum

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Basic education minister Angie Motshekga.
Basic education minister Angie Motshekga.

Minister of basic education Angie Motshekga has announced that Ms Zora, an artificial intelligence-based educational platform, will be rolled out across South African schools to support the introduction of the coding and robotics curriculum this year.

The e-learning platform, unveiled at the announcement of the 2019 National Senior Certificate Results at Vodacom World, in Midrand, yesterday, is a robotics and coding software tool aimed at empowering school pupils across all grades to develop and improve their 21 century skills by serving as both a teacher’s assistant and a personal tutor to the learner.

Ms Zora was conceived and developed in partnership with ICT skills development initiative, Africa Teen Geeks, and IT company, Apodytes, to support the Department of Basic Education (DBE) in its mission to pilot its coding and robotics curriculum across 200 schools this year.

Releasing the results, Motshekga was accompanied by Pepper, the world’s first humanoid robot, developed by SoftBank Robotics.

She explained the 2019 grade 12 class scored an impressive 81.3% National Senior Certificate pass, which is the country’s highest achievement to date.

Motshekga reaffirmed the importance of fourth industrial revolution skills and the role of the new online platform in the new curriculum: “It is critical that we implement science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) platforms now to empower students at an early stage to be responsive to the demands of the changing world.

“The new curriculum will provide learners with an understanding of coding and robotics while developing their skills and competencies to prepare them for the future workplace. Hence, this important partnership with Africa Teen Geeks in launching Ms Zora.”

Motshekga told ITWeb that Ms Zora would assist teachers to effectively integrate technology into subject areas, while increasing access to the quality of education for all South African pupils, regardless of their location, proficiency level and socioeconomic circumstances.

“Our learners are our future workers and we have to ensure that they are well equipped and prepared for 4IR. The right curriculum and appropriate educational tools will help us to benchmark with international standards. Technology will allow us to reach rural schools that are far and out of reach, therefore our kids have to be ready for this exciting revolution.”

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga with Pepper the robot.
Basic education minister Angie Motshekga with Pepper the robot.

The introduction of the Web and mobile application comes as SA's education system prepares to undergo a revamp, as government looks to equip every school child with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device over the next six years.

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

The robotics curriculum will have a strong foundation in engineering in STEM, and will enable learners to build and operate robots through programming code.

Two hundred schools across SA have been identified to start with the pilot phase of the curriculum, which seeks to equip grade R to grade 9 with technology skills to help them meet the demands of the fourth industrial revolution.

The DBE says the 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.

The 10th edition of the South African ICT Skills Survey reveals that, despite the hype around the 4IR in SA, there remains a chronic shortage of all types of ICT skills required to help local organisations succeed in the digital age.

Seliki Tlhabane, chief director of Maths, Science, Technology and ICT at the DBE, told ITWeb that Ms Zora will become a critical partner in the implementation of the coding and robotics curricula.

“Ms Zora will play an important role in ensuring that we modernise how we deliver education and how teachers source knowledge and help learners access educational tools, closing the gap in situations where teachers are overloaded with the demands of the new curriculum. The software is a virtual reality-enabled intelligent tutoring system that will offer curriculum-aligned learning tools, answer tech-related questions, and help teachers to impart knowledge to pupils in a simple manner.”

Lindiwe Matlali,developer of Ms Zora and founder of Africa Teen Geeks, explained: “We are initially piloting coding and robotics in 50 schools through the Ms Zora platform, which allows for teachers to learn as they teach. This will potentially grow to a network of 400. Ms Zora will arrive in 70% of South Africa’s 24 000 government schools by 2023, as part of an initiative by the Ministry of Basic Education. We have started at grassroots level, at grade R, in preparing our children for 21st century skills. We are aiming at fully implementing the curricula in 2021, after having trained teachers and other young people who are passionate about ICT.”

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