Teaching robotics from primary level :Sci-Bono
Engineer Magazine attended Innovation Education in Africa Conference held in Gaborone which attracted most African countries. This platform was meant to have educationalists in Africa, that included Ministers to share different technological tools and insight to better the education system in Africa. We sat down with Mr Alfred Hanyani from Sci-Bono Discovery Center. This is a center in South Africa where children learn robotics programming and design.
Q: In China children start learning robotics projects from as early as 6 years. In future are we likely to see Africa implementing similar projects.
A: I believe that’s were we are going. At Sci-Bono Discovery center as i had mentioned that through the robotics workshop and competitions the programme is for learners from ages 9 years and older and some are in standard one. We do have primary school learners able to build a robot, program the robot and integrate the hardware and software that makes a robot work. So through the competition we are able to mentor them on robotics .But there are still a lot of disadvantaged learners who are in need of support but it is our objective at Sci-bono to reach out to those disadvantaged .We are working hand in hand with the Department of Education in South Africa so we are contributing towards that but there is still a gap because in our rural areas in other provinces we have a challenge of getting there and reaching out.
Q: So is this program part of the educational system in South Africa
A: We provide support to five education systems through this project. It was declared by the President (Ramaphosa) that he wants coding to be a part of the curriculumn so already we have been doing this for the past 10vyearsvat Sci-bono. So now that the president has opened doors it helps a lot because not so long ago we conducted a teachers training or workshop in robotics programming. As soon as that curriculum is rolled out to schools we will be able to assist further. Some of the schools are already doing this project and will be one step ahead in terms of robotics and programming.
Q: During these competitions are there any incentives like awards for top performing students.
A: I normally say the most important award that a learner especially from rural area is the technical knowledge and skill acquired. But yes they are awarded. They get the championship award, programming awards, robot building awards and innovation awards. So they are these awards but because it’s an international competition some of the learners who are good compete on international level. Our challenge is to take them abroad to USA to compete with other kids but it’s something we are sorting out. These awards help to recognize their skills.
Q: Were you benchmarking any countries when you were coming up with program?
A: The name of the competition we are a part of is called First Lego league International Robotics competition. This competition started in the USA and rolled out to other countries.At Sci-bono we are sponsoring 15 schools in Gauteng .By sponsoring we mean we give team mentorship, resources, organize challenges so basically internationally we are doing the same thing countries like China, Japan but the only thing is that our learners have to perform better so that they can compete at an international level so they start at regional level . There is an attempt and a discussion of an international team to come and participate in South Africa. If it goes well 2021 we will see the competition hosted in SA.. We had one 4 years ago where we had countries like Lebanon ,Brazil participate in SA
Q: In the competition held 4 years ago which Southern African countries participated?
A: I can’t remember from the top of my head but we had countries like Swaziland, Botswana and yes we still need to introduce the competition to other African countries. Kenya also participated but a lot more is needed to gain awareness with many other African countries. Zimbabwe was also part of the competition.
Q Since there is a gap with teachers who teach this, how are you coping with the number of learners coming for training.
A: The ideas is that in the schools we have a group of learners who are in the competition and the teachers are the coaches. At Sci-bono we are the mentors. We are familiar with the project and we know how it works. We just need to make sure that before I make the teacher coach the student I need to know what is expected of the teacher. I start with them as a group, we program the robots and show the logistics and then I meet with the learners as well. The role of the teacher is to guide the student. I also share with the learners how to program and build the robots. So both of them have the knowledge but the teacher uses the knowledge to guide the kids not to do the work for them.
Q: In participation at this event, have you so far realized what is expected of you to achieve ?
A: yes, if I may quote what the Minister said yesterday, he said that we are here to explore the power of ideas in education. So robotics coding i.e. IT ,we need to Start with teachers then then learners .So I found we are relevant ,at the right event and sharing with other African countries .What we are looking for if possible is have partnerships with other companies and governments