World ORT seminar plants seed for skills growth in South Africa

What started as one man’s sojourn in London has turned into a whole new world of possibilities for new generations of South Africans, writes Marcelle Ravid.

Mpho Matlala, left, at World ORT’s Hatter Technology Seminar in London.

Mpho Matlala, Head of ORT South Africa’s STEM Academy, was one of 19 ORT educators from 10 countries at World ORT’s Hatter Technology Seminar in 2014. He returned to Johannesburg with an Arduino Uno and, together with ORT SA’s team of STEM facilitators, started a ‘one-of-a-kind’ Coding Club in one school with five pupils and one teacher.

They have never looked back. The programme has grown phenomenally to become South Africa’s leading non-state coding programme.

“I never anticipated this kind of response to the Coding Clubs initiative,” said Mr Matlala. “What is important to me is the keenness and enthusiasm of both teachers and pupils for coding. My wish is to expand into as many schools as possible.”

World ORT brought its expertise to Johannesburg last year for the Beverley Katz ICT Seminar for teachers, which focused on implementing code into classes from early primary through high schools. Participants in that seminar went on to expand the Coding Clubs to six schools, involving 12 teachers and 60 learners. This year saw the numbers sky-rocket to 13 schools, 40 teachers and 186 learners with the Department of Education included in a new club at a school which specialises in ICT.

Thanks to the skills they’ve gained from the ORT SA Coding Club, children from all backgrounds are realising amazing ideas to benefit their communities, including: 

  • A vacuum cleaner with an obstacle-avoiding sensor that works with a servo motor.
  • A self-guiding drone for use by police whose camera is supplemented with temperature and light sensors, and distance sensor to detect trespassers.

“These are just two examples – imagine the possibilities created because one human being’s passion planted a seed – not only in his life but in the lives of the many others who have gone on to believe, dream and participate in the project,” said ORT SA CEO Ariellah Rosenberg.

ORT SA’s Head of Skills Academy, Ian Jacobs, added: “South Africa is a developing country so it’s important to contemplate the economic value and other long-term benefits that projects like these translate into. Without a doubt some of the projects can be patented further to foster a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation.”

The success of the Coding Clubs has added to ORT SA’s range of programmes successfully cultivating young talent so that students can translate ideas into wealth-creating businesses or interest them in pursuing further education.

“This initiative has grown into a significant force for social and economic progress for which the facilitators must be commended; it has been their enthusiasm and passion to learn something new and their consistent hard work and skill in passing it on to pupils and other teachers which lie at the heart of its success,” Ms Rosenberg said. “Special thanks must also go to the Micro:bit Educational Foundation, which provided us with 150 of their remarkable mini programmable computer kits.”