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Education department backs down over Delphi


The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has backed down over plans to standardise the national curriculum for IT training in grades 11 and 12 around the programming language Delphi. The new curriculum, which was outlined in a government circular released in October, told teachers that all schools were to have transitioned their existing classes to the language by November 2016 and caused an outcry which reached international audiences overnight.

Why, the world asked, would South Africa settle its courses around a mostly defunct language when then there were more modern ways of teaching programming skills that either have more relevance in the workplace (Java) or are more fun to learn (Python).

Thus followed a petition which gained 1 255 signatures, emergency meetings of the Cape Town Chamber of Commerce and public consultation over the  issue, as well as analysis in the media which suggested that the documentation arguing for Delphi usage looked suspiciously like it had been written by the marketing department Embarcadero, the developer of Delphi.

As a result, the DBE has tonight issued another circular which states:

“Circular S9 of 2013 is therefore withdrawn with immediate effect and the status quo will be retained.”

Alen Ribic, the organiser of the online petition, met with the DBE last week at a final stakeholder meeting on the subject, was jubiliant.

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“In simple terms, we are victorious,” he told supporters, “This process, while being lengthy and sometimes challenging, has shown me that it is possible to challenge government decisions and to work alongside the government in building a better future.”

Ribic says that he won’t be lobbying for the DBE to settle in one particular language over another, but will do his best to try and get the government to stick to its own open source agenda.

“I’d like to focus on the attributes of a well-suited language for the South African national IT curriculum,” he told htxt.africa, “In particular it should be a programming language that is expressive and simple enough to learn, supports a range of programming paradigms, one that is widely used and that has a vibrant community. It should also be a language that is free and open source (which fits well with the current FOSS policy. There are a number of modern programming languages that satisfy this criteria.”

As to that future, it seems it’s a case of going back to the drawing board for now. At present roughly half of the country, including Guateng, uses Delphi in class while the Western Cape and KZN teach in Java – this is the status quo referred to in the new circular. A national curriculum is still likely, but unlikely to be decided now before well in to the new year.

(Image from Catbirding Greece – it’s the Oracle at Delphi, of course. Slightly more modern than the programming language that takes its name.)

//This story was updated with more news from Alen Ribic at 10.12 on Friday 13th

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