One of the big problems facing South African schools is that you can’t get kids excited about technology and learning skills like programming without putting them in front of a computer – and there are few public schools with the resources to do that. With one or two exceptions, the schools I’ve visited over the last year have had a dozen or so PCs to share between a thousand or more students. In the most tragic cases, I’ve seen boxes of tablets were gathering dust in a back room because not even the staff knew how to use them.
How can kids from tough backgrounds start benefiting from all the things computers and the internet can do for them if they never get chance to use computers?
Enter ThoughtWorks, the global software firm that promotes activism within its ranks (Aaron Schwartz was an employee) and claims social justice as a corporate strategy. ThoughtWorks has offices in Braamfontein and organises things like BlackGirlsCode and The Day We Fight Back locally. It’s latest initiative is Young African Technologists (YAT), which has been developed along similar lines to BlackGirlsCode and aims to expose young kids to the joys of technology and inspire them to take up careers programming for good.
YAT is being organised by Dr Charles Lebon Mberi Kimpolo, a South African-educated Congolese software engineer who’s worked at ThoughtWorks since it opened Joburg offices two years ago. It’s based around day-long workshops in schools in which mentors and trainers run practical and theoretical sessions introducing programming techniques and possibilities with an eye to inspiring youngsters to study STEM.
Mberi Kimpolo says that YAT is aimed at inspiring more kids to enter the profession and develop local software tools for local problems, and he hopes to extend it to other areas and countries.
“The continent must develop a produced-in-Africa software strategy. Children and young adults in Africa need role models to inspire the next generation of engineers,” says Mberi Kimpolo, “The YAT programme aims to empower the youth so that they can make a positive impact in their respective communities and the African continent at large. We believe this can be achieved by exposing young people to technology innovations and promoting career opportunities within the technology sector”.
The first one is taking place on Saturday (17th May) at Phefeni Senior Secondary School in Soweto. Coincidentally, that’s also the school where Lungelo and I spent a day introducing a class of girls to the basic concepts of journalism last year.