The status of coding and robotics in South African schools

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Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf)
Recording of a webinar hosted by ASSAf on 28 April 2021. Panellists included the following: - Emma Dicks, founder and director at CodeSpace, an education institution that specialises in teaching coding & software development. - Hussein Suleman, Acting Director of the School of Information Technology; and Head of Department and Professor in Computer Science at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa. - Jean Greyling is an Associate Professor in Computing Sciences at Nelson Mandela University, Gqeberha (previously Port Elizabeth), South Africa. He is mainly involved in teaching and research related to programming. Since 2017 he has been coordinating the Tangibl Coding project (mainly with the TANKS coding app), introducing learners to coding without the use of a computer. - Jonathan Freese is Chief Education Specialist (Technology) at the Department of Basic Education, Western Cape Government, South Africa.
About this webinar: Developing countries need appropriate science, technology and innovation (STI) policies in order to absorb, diffuse and master advanced knowledge that fosters growth. There is a visible shift in government structures to ensure that the shift to a knowledge economy is innovation and technology driven. The introduction of vertical STI policies and horizontal intersections aimed at creating new sectors can solve the technological stalemate. However, for this to happen a throughput requires support and greater development. The White Paper on Science and Technology, Science Engagement Strategy and the draft Digital Skills Curriculum all seems to address this need.
The world as we know it continues to rapidly change as a result of technology, and the careers of the future (across disciplines) are leaning more and more heavily on computer-based skills, with data scientist skills specifically high in demand. The response of the South African Basic Education sector to these developments was the release of the Digital Skills Curriculum for Grades R to 9. According to the Minister of Basic Education, Minister Angie Motshekga, the teaching of this new subject “aims to equip learners to contribute in a meaningful and successful way in a rapidly changing and transforming society”. Since school forms part of a much bigger ecosystem in which we all co-exist, it has the responsibility to prepare and sufficiently equip learners for both post-graduate studies and the world of work, addressing the need for more entrepreneurs and innovators. This webinar – in the form of a panel discussion - brought together experts from the public and private sector to discuss the new developments and responses to – among others – the following: 1. What is the end goal of teaching coding and robotics on school level, and which foundational skills are required by industry, universities and other higher education institutions to sufficiently prepare learners and make the transition between school, those institutions and the world of work, seamless. 2. Language and mathematical literacy skills are essential to learn coding (indeed for all future learning and problem solving) yet the average primary school child in our country is not proficient in basic skills. 78% of grade four learners cannot read for meaning in any language, and 61% of grade five children cannot do basic mathematics (Dicks, 2020). In this context, what is required in order to address the implementation of the new curriculum, without further increasing inequality? 3. Teachers are being trained as we speak, and there is great collaboration among the private and public sector in this regard. The question is, what is needed for schools to successfully teach digital skills, and how can various sectors further collaborate and contribute to this? 4. What is the current status of existing and new curricula and their rollout in schools? What are the future actions from the Department of Basic Education? What is the way forward?
MP4 Video; Size: 540MB; Duration: 2:04
Please cite as: Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), (2021). The status of coding and robotics in South African schools. [Online] Available at:
Contributor ORCIDs
Suleman, Hussein ; Greyling, Jean
Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), (2021). The status of coding and robotics in South African schools. [Online] Available at:
Peer review status
Non-Peer Reviewed