As the world gradually embraces the 4IR, South Africa should ensure it quickly adopts and harness the latest technologies to revitalise the economy and create opportunities for the majority of its unemployed youths.
One of the youngsters who should be able to readily adapt and thrive in the science and technology environment is Tsakane Koko.
This is because the grade 11 learners from the Curro Academy Pretoria has just made the country and her school proud by taking second spot in the science and technology international artificial intelligence (AI) competition.
Koko was part of the team that took part in the girl’s edition of the Imagine Cup Junior Virtual Artificial Intelligence Hackathon. The challenge is only for high school girls between 14 and 18 years old. It is sponsored by Microsoft in partnership with UNESCO.
She was pitted against learners from 21 countries which included, among others, Egypt, Canada, England and Croatia. The hackathon challenge, also popularly referred to as the “Olympics of technology”, is an international event in which teams compete live by trying to solve real world problems through the use of AI.
Team Tsakane comprised her peers from other Curro campuses across the country. They were Hesme Cronje (Grade 12, Curro Heritage House), Humbulani Mudziwa (Grade 12, Curro Academy Soshanguve), Anamika Beethasi (Grade 11, Curro Waterfall) and Tahlia Bell (Grade 10, Curro Mossel Bay).
Their brief was to use AI to help trace and locate the African wild dog by using social media and geotagging and hashtag technology. The African wild dog has been included in the list of the world’s most endangered mammals. According to the wild life conservationists, the largest remaining population of the African wild dog is found in Southern Africa.
As part of their preparation for the competition, the girls were immersed into the basics of the AI so that they can acquire widely applicable machine learning skills to address themes such as sustainability, biodiversity loss and climate change.
Charlotte Jooste, a phase head at Curro Academy Pretoria, was excited about the girls’ achievement. Jooste was very instrumental in assisting the girl learners to prepare for the competition. She hailed Koko as a top performing learner and said when they heard about the competition they never hesitated to choose her to lead the team.
Said Jooste: “Their presentation focused on AI methods to pick up any indications in the wild dogs’ behaviour that could link to illness or other threats as well as interventions. This way, the animals receive little human intervention and therefore live a more ‘natural’ life. The team’s presentation also ensured wild dogs will be protected from geological disasters, or processes like droughts, floods, etc, as well as human activities.”
Tsakane’s father, Sello Koko, also commented on her daughter’s success, saying the challenge helped learners to tackle some of the world’s toughest challenges by thinking creatively and outside the box.
He thanked Tsakane’s teachers for helping her with preparation for the competition, saying he is proud of her achievement. “This challenge was a great platform for her to challenge herself with the best learners around the globe,” he added.
As a token of appreciation, the school named trees after Tsakane and her peers. Tsakane added that the competition deepened her interest in technology and also helped her to appreciate the significance of the AI. She is clear that her career choice would be within the AI field.
Tsakane’s achievement will go a long way in inspiring more girl learners not only at her schools but in the whole of South Africa to pursue STEM subjects.