Learning how to code is a popular hobby among tech-minded people who want to learn valuable new skills that can help them in the job market.
However, South African school learners are only provided with the opportunity to learn coding from Grade 10 onwards, through the Information Technology subject choice.
President Cyril Ramaphosa recently said that he wants to change this by making coding compulsory at all schools.
Deputy Minister of Communications Pinky Kekana has echoed this belief.
“Once we start teaching our children coding from an early age, it will give them the skills to participate in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” said Kekana.
BusinessTech reported that coding as a subject will be piloted at 1,000 schools across five provinces in 2020.
The Department of Basic Education has trained 43,774 teachers in computer skills and will begin training teachers for the new coding curriculum from June 2019.
Quality coding education needed
Tom Waspe, a Sessional Educational Technology lecturer at Wits School of Education, told MyBroadband that South Africa is straggling behind the rest of the world when it comes to coding education.
“Most schools in the developed world teach coding and robotics from an early age as do many in the developing world. South Africa is certainly lagging behind.”
He believes that the introduction of an effective coding and robotics curriculum in South Africa will help to prepare young people for the future.
The benefits offered by a well-designed coding curriculum are not limited to the physical act of coding, added Waspe, but extend to important life skills such as problem-solving, creativity, sequential thinking, and determination.
Big risk of failure
However, Waspe cautions that to achieve these benefits, five key prerequisites need to be fulfilled.
- There has to be a coherent and high-quality curriculum in place for coding and robotics which includes appropriate pedagogical and assessment strategies.
- Schools must have fully functional and appropriate hardware technologies and resources which should include internet connected PCs, laptops and tablets on a one learner to one device basis.
- Coding has to be done on some software platform or application which also has to be part of the focus of the curriculum.
- The teaching and learning of coding has to take place in effective and well-functioning school contexts.
- Most importantly, the teaching and learning of coding requires teachers who are able to teach it.
“If these five conditions are not met simultaneously then the teaching and learning of coding and robotics will be a disastrous failure,” said Waspe.
Waspe is particularly skeptical of how ready South African teachers are to facilitate coding education in schools.
“For coding and robotics to be effective and functioning, schools need to be effective and functioning,” he said.
“If coding and robotics is introduced into schools that are not ready and which are dysfunctional it will simply exacerbate the dysfunctionality of the school as a whole.”
Piloting coding in schools
Waspe claimed that the 1,000 school pilot is in fact not a pilot, but instead a fully-fledged programme.
“If it is not preceded by a high-quality rigorous pilot, the roll-out to 1,000 schools will be an abysmal failure,” Waspe warns.
He added that a true pilot programme would entail introducing coding and robotics into “a handful of schools at most.”
“The government has some large-scale educational technology programme roll-outs from the past and present to learn from and draw on and none of these programmes, which have cost the tax payer billions and billions of Rands, have been a success,” said Waspe.
“There is the Gauteng Online project, the Western Cape Khanya project and the Gauteng smartboard and tablet paperless classroom project,” he said.
“Unless the rollout of technologies and the teaching and learning of coding and robotics learns from the mistakes of the past, unless appropriate and rigorous pilot studies are done before a mass rollout is done, and unless the five basic school conditions are met then one can only assume that the introduction of coding and robotics will be another failed feather in the government’s cap.”