Exemplifying the World ORT mission of looking to the future while providing education for current needs, in 2015 ORT South Africa developed the concept of offering instruction in coding to disadvantaged primary and high school students.
It was meant to stem the digital divide between public and private education, engender interest in the digital space, and give students knowledge and skills to secure employment and build careers. As the first non-profit organization to provide this kind of instruction in South Africa, ORT established the program with its first group of five children and one teacher, and it has grown to educate over 500 students, and includes almost 60 teachers.
ORT coding clubs are operated in previously disadvantaged schools in four Johannesburg locations, and the courses run throughout the year. The clubs are funded by Chevron South Africa, Bidcorp, four prominent South Africa banks, and others. Each group of students is tasked with finding a solution for a community issue that will be resolved through their coding prowess. For example, students may design security systems, an electric wheelchair with a roof that automatically emerges when it rains, and other projects with practical applications. Each club meets once a week, and laptops are supplied. The teachers who assist at the clubs are also given instruction; they are highly qualified math teachers serving as ORT South Africa facilitators. The coding is visual basic to intermediate coding, using systems such as BBC micro:bit or Arduino Uno.
Some participants have never used computers before their experience at the coding club; they learn the principles of coding quickly and are very enthusiastic. The students are highly motivated to study science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and many say they would like to study these subjects at university. Their creativity is noteworthy. “It is inspiring to see the possible advantage these children have gained over fellow pupils, vis-à-vis technology trends,” says Mpho Matlala, head of the ORT SA STEM Academy.
A goal of ORT is to supply coding instruction to the department of education in South Africa, and enable the integration of coding into the official government school curriculum, allowing an increasing number of children to avail themselves of this knowledge and leaving an ORT legacy for future generations. One in four South Africans is unemployed, and if the coding clubs will result in increased employment, ORT will not only have contributed to the enrichment of hundreds of students, but to reducing unemployment in South Africa – a laudable accomplishment.