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Young African Technologists - Promoting Education through Technology

It is widely recognized in South Africa and on the continent that poor education and lack of access to technology are major stumbling blocks to economic competitiveness and social equality.  As feeder subjects for a career in IT, the low quality of maths and science education in South Africa is alarming.

As Thoughtworkers, we are always looking for ways to make an impact, to show children and young adults the opportunities that exist in technology, inspiring the next generation of software engineers.  

We decided to take action by launching the Young African Technologists (YAT) initiative, that is aimed at promoting education through technology in underprivileged communities. On Saturday 17 May 2014, a group of Thoughtworkers and external volunteers braved a cold winter morning and made their way to Phefeni Senior Secondary School in Soweto to conduct the first ever YAT workshop. Located on Vilakazi Street - the only street in the world to have housed two Nobel Prize winners (Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu), the school is home to a thousand learners from Soweto and surrounding areas.

The Program

The day started with lots of energy as everyone got to know each other through networking. 10 mentors - all with backgrounds in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics - led the group of 45 students aged between 14 - 18, with support from a number of volunteers.

group of students

The formal part  of the day kicked off with a welcome from Mr. Ronnie Lapshe, the school principal, followed by an introduction to Thoughtworks from Johannesburg’s general manager Kgomotso Sediane. Charles Kimpolo led the first session, covering the basics of building a webpage using simple HTML coding skills. The children were encouraged to think beyond being Internet consumers and to realize the power of technology in creating Internet content.

Next up was an interactive session on sounds and software, where the students  were exposed to a new way of producing music.  In the final session, Ghanaian-born developer Charles Boadu gave an eye-opening talk on robotics, where the kids took part in real-life demonstrations which sparked many questions and excitement on the topic.

What We Learned

For many of the children it was the first time they had ever worked on a mac computer,  something Thoughtworkers often take for granted. Whilst the initiative is targeted at the youth, the Chairperson of the school governing body spoke passionately about her desire to improve her computer skills, highlighting the need to broaden the programs reach. As a first-time exploratory event, we were really pleased with the positive feedback and the kids wanted to know when we would be coming back.

Next Steps

So where to from here? The core YAT team is in the process of analyzing the feedback and finalizing  a YAT curriculum. To ensure the initiative’s ongoing success, we hope to partner with others so that the program is eventually owned and managed by the communities in which we operate.

A big thanks to everyone who attended and made it such a success.  To find out more or get involved, email us at yat@thoughtworks.com.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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