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New coding programme promises students computer science skills in a fun package

Nov 25 2019 21:49
Lameez Omarjee
A microbit on display at the WeCode24 launch on Mo

A microbit on display at the WeCode24 launch on Monday. A microbit is a small computer developed by the BBC to teach children how to learn more about writing computer software. The microbit can be programmed using coding. The children on the WeCode24 pilot worked on code to programme the microbits. (Lameez Omarjee)

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It's possible to learn computer science skills while having fun. This was the message at a launch of a new programme, WeCode24, launched on Monday.

The programme is a partnership between Naspers, which is the funder of the project; Media24, which will provide digital internships for pupils; and Stellenbosch University's economics department, and aims to help students at under-resourced schools to learn coding skills.

Speaking at the event, Professor Rachel Jafta - from Stellenbosch University's department of economics, and who is also chairperson of the Media24 board and director on the Naspers board - described the programme as one of "self-discovery". Students in grade 8 to grade 11 in the schools who participate on the programme will be able to discover if they have a talent in coding, she said. In turn, the programme will help them develop these talents.

"This programme is about learning by having fun. It’s not supposed to feel like having more homework," she said.

"Writing computer code should be seen more like a creative process than harnessing a technical skill," Jafta said. "It's not necessary to be good at maths or to approach code as if it was a pure maths problem," she added.

WeCode24 aims to teach children how to apply their technology and digitisation skills. 

Speaking to Fin24 on the sidelines of the event, Jafta told Fin24 that it is important to prepare children with skills they need to make the most of opportunities that new technologies bring. She commented that the unemployment rate of 29.1%, with that of youth specifically at 58.2%, are "worrying" statistics. She said it was important to do "every little bit" to change that and bring it down.

WeCode24 was first piloted in 2017, at four historically disadvantaged Western Cape schools. The programme will now be expanded to more schools in the Cape Metropole and Boland. Jafta said the aim is to get more than 500 Western Cape learners on the programme in 2020. The course focuses on text-based programming and uses programming language Python and includes a drawing feature known as Turtle Graphics, according to a statement issued by Naspers following the event.

Naspers SA CEO Phuti Mahanyele-Dabengwa helping st
Naspers CEO Phuti Mahanyele-Dabengwa assisting pupils in coding at the launch of WeCode24 on Monday. (Photo: Lameez Omarjee)

Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa, CEO of Naspers South Africa, said the project is aligned to the group's social impact initiative, Naspers Labs, which aims to tackle youth unemployment by upskilling young people for future jobs. So far more than 1 500 youth have passed through the Naspers Lab programme, and 79% of graduates have secured their first job, the statement read.

"We should be exposing young people to the changing environment in such a way that they understand how they, with their different perspectives and diverse backgrounds, can tap technology and become part of it," Mahanyele-Dabengwa said.

 *Cape Metropole and Boland schools in previously disadvantaged areas which are interested in joining the programme can send an email to info@wecode24.com by January 15, 2020. The name and contact details of the school should be included, as well as a brief overview of the school, motivating what it would mean to the learners to participate in this programme.

 *Fin24 is part of Media24, a subsidiary of Naspers. 

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