Gauteng education department (GED) in partnership with Honeywell, a global Nasdaq-listed technology company, on Thursday launched a new robotics and coding education centre at St Barnabas School of Specialisation in Bosmont in Johannesburg. Gauteng MEC of education, Panyaza Lesufi and Honeywell’s president in sub-Saharan Africa, Denver Dreyer, officially unveiled the facility.
Called the Futureshaper Lab, the centre aims to develop and equip 200 learners every year through a STEM-based curriculum. St Barnabas adds to a growing list of Schools of Specialisation (SOS) – a GED’s flagship programme that seeks to nurture and develop a pipeline of technologically savvy learners as part of addressing the country’s skills shortage and high unemployment rate, particularly among the youth.
STEM changes the world for the better
Dreyer said STEM is at the core of their organisation and that it is logical to team up with the GED as they share the same vision about equipping learners with 21st Century skills. “I hope this partnership will ensure that STEM is born in the heart of young kids”, he said, adding “when kids are exposed to the beauty and innovative magic of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, it changes their lives forever. Engineers and technicians change the world for the better.”
Dreyer said he hopes that as we engage with these kids, said Dreyer, they walk away changed and their outlook on life will also change. He added that they must be aware that options are there and that they can study, grow, and develop themselves in the field of STEM.
Shining in the new world
Lesufi said they want the curriculum to focus on content that would prepare learners to adapt to the technology-driven future. Said Lesufi: “What we are bringing to you today is a new world that will make you shine… A world that will make you relevant, that will change the history and the economy of our country forever.”
Alabama space camp
Dreyer told the excited audience that Honeywell awards bursaries to young pupils who wish to pursue their studies in science and engineering. He said they also have a separate programme called the Honeywell Leadership Programme, where they select up to 10 kids per year, depending on global funding, and take them to a space camp in Alabama. “At the space camp, pupils will be exposed to astronauts, programming, and coding, and when these kids return, they are fundamentally transformed,” said Dreyer.
Country of consumers
An upbeat Lesufi told the learners that: “Every school under my leadership in this particular province will specialise in some skill so that they can be part of the economy of our country. We have been a country of consumers. That era ends with you. You are the generation that will create an economy for the country.”
St Barnabas’ principal Gilbert Rambwa said the lab was crucial because pupils would be able to draw on more than just theory. In addition to altering the pupils’ thinking patterns, he said the lab would give them first-hand experience with robotics and information technology.
Specialist subject curriculum
Three months ago, Basic education minister, Angie Motshekga, announced a specialist-subject curriculum, which will see learners enrol on subjects such as agriculture, maritime and STEM. She said this was part of expanding the establishment of Focus School to cater for learners with special talents and aptitudes across a range of learning areas.
The specialised curriculum will include agriculture, maritime and nautical science, mathematics, science and technology, and technical occupational disciplines such as electrical, civil and mechanical technologies. Motshekga said the coding and robotics curriculum for Grades R – 3 and 7, and the CAPS for occupational subjects for Grades 8 and 9 have been developed and submitted to Umalusi for appraisal and quality assurance.
Since he took over as Gauteng education MEC in May 2014, Lesufi has made ICT the centrepiece of his education strategy. He undertook an ambitious programme of eliminating chalkboards by leveraging the latest technologies and turning schools into paperless classrooms. In terms of the strategy, this would see every classroom fitted with interactive smartboards while teachers would receive tablets.