Coding should be SA's 12th language
South Africa's 12th official language should be coding. This is according to Sipho Maseko, Telkom group CEO, speaking at the BCX Disrupt Summit in Johannesburg today.
"South Africa has 11 languages; we will now be investing quite a significant amount of money in what we believe is the 12th language of South Africa, which is coding," he said.
"How do we make sure everyone between the ages of 17 to 25 has an opportunity to learn how to code? Because in a world of the Internet of things, artificial intelligence, robotics and devices that talk to each other, if you don't understand and speak that language you will really be left behind."
He said it is fundamentally important for Telkom and BCX to make sure SA's youth learn the language that he believes "will sustain them for the next 100 years".
"We have pledged to start a tech fund, largely focused on teaching young people, between the ages of 17 and 25, coding. We have pledged to invest R250 million over the next three years," Maseko announced.
He said real change is possible "if we can double, treble or quadruple the number of young people that can start to learn how to code at an early age, even younger than 17, at the age of 10 or six. And also start thinking about coding as a core curriculum in how people learn going forward".
However, he also warned that "we can't just introduce technology for the sake of technology; it must mean something and must have the right social impact. If it can't solve practical problems then it's not useful."
In May, Telkom-owned BCX announced it was investing R60 million over three years for WeThinkCode to invest in the next generation of coders. The funds will enable expansions and upgrades for the tech hub's Johannesburg office and allow for the opening of a new campus in Cape Town. As part of the agreement, BCX and other Telkom group companies will also host 40 interns from WeThinkCode's innovative educational programme every year for the next three years.
Mari'eme Jamme, founder of iamtheCODE, explained to the audience at the summit about her massive goal: to enable a million women and girl coders globally by 2030.
"Coding is a 21st century skill and every young girl growing up today in our society should have access to it. But only with time, investment, with commitment, empathy and compassion you can allow this to happen for young girls growing up in SA, maybe extremely poor, neglected and forgotten by society," she said.
"Technology is an enabler for young girls and young women in Africa. We cannot design solutions where we forget young girls and young women."
IamtheCODE is a movement to mobilise governments, business and investors to support young women in STEAMD (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics and design), through learning how to code, creative learning and cracking problems.
Jamme said it is important to allow marginalised girls and women to be empowered by technology. Her organisation is active in 54 countries across the globe, teaching young girls how to code.
"Technology has no gender, no bias," she said.