Prof Jean Greyling and his team from Computing Sciences at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth has received the Vice Chancellor’s Excellence Award, in the category “Engagement Project”. This follows on the Innovation Excellence Award also from the Vice Chancellor in 2019.
Prof Greyling is very passionate about introducing learners to software development as a career – “Before COVID-19 there already was a desperate shortage of coders across South Africa and most of the world. The lockdown scenario of 2020 and the long-term impact it has on the way companies will work in the future, has made this challenge more acute, as millions move online.”
Their coding engagement project started in 2017, using apps such as TANKS, RANGERS and BOATS to introduce learners to coding in a fun way without the need of computers. Since then they have reached over 20,000 learners through interactive workshop.
2020 started on a very high note, when Prof Greyling was invited as a plenary panellist to UNESCO’s Mobile Learning Week in Paris. This event is the United Nation’s annual flagship education conference, and the invitation was an acknowledgement of the impact the project has in reaching learners from disadvantaged communities. At the same time many top schools from across South Africa had also purchased the TANKS coding kits, and they were ready to roll the lessons out in technology classes.
Then COVID-19 hit. The Paris event was cancelled the night before Prof Greyling was supposed to leave for Europe. Schools closed down, went online and for the rest of the year they were in survival mode. The concept of interactive workshops became impossible.
“For a few weeks in April I went into a state of limbo regarding the coding project, and in my mind I ‘parked’ it for a year.” But then industry partners started asking whether there was nothing that could be done for learners who were stuck at home. This prompted the team to make some changes to the BOATS coding app, which allowed for virtual coding tournaments.
“This turned out to be very popular with teachers, learners, parents and sponsors. Three virtual tournaments saw over 1000 learners submit nearly 30000 scores from across the country.
“Sponsorships worth nearly R200,000 were raised which went towards various incentives including tablets, free data and even donations towards various social engagement projects. This included providing free coffee to medical workers taking care of COVID-19 patients, assisting SANCCOB who takes care of sea birds as well as purchasing shoes worth R30000 for learners who were affected by COVID-19.
“But for us it is wonderful that we have introduced over 1000 learners to coding in a year where it seemed impossible”, says Prof Greyling. This network was used to launch an online coding club introducing learners to actual C# coding. Through the use of short videos, WhatsApp and an existing Android app, learners are coding on their phones – once again not needing computers. Small coding clubs were also initiated in mainly rural areas during the latter part of the year. The feedback received, shows that many of the learners reached, are now seriously considering software development as a possible career choice.
Parents and learners who are interested to find out more about these career opportunities are encouraged to lookout for the upcoming Amazon Web Services (#awsincommunities) Family Tech Series. Prof Greyling is a keynote speaker, and there will be various (mainly interactive) events to choose from. For more info on the games and the upcoming Tech Series, follow “Games powered by Tangibl” on Facebook or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.