A fun computer programming platform founded by Prof Rachel Jafta of the Department of Economics in the Faculty of Economic Management and Sciences was launched at the Media24 Centre in Cape Town on Monday (25 November 2019).
The platform, WeCode24, is offered in collaboration with Naspers (funder), Media24 (media partner and digital internships) and the SU Department of Economics.
WeCode24, in essence, is aimed at helping high school learners from Grade 8 to 11 to develop the programming skills they need to excel in the technological era.
The platform was first piloted in 2017 at four historically disadvantaged Western Cape schools. It focuses on text-based programming and uses programming language Python, and includes a drawing feature known as Turtle Graphics.
This diverse and powerful platform allows users to add value to almost all areas of life. According to the WeCode24 website, one can use the platform to create art or games, build clever houses that look after its inhabitants, design robots you can control with your mind and make virtual worlds to explore.
Jafta, who also serves as a director of Naspers and as chairperson of the Media24 board, said in her welcoming address that technology offers great opportunities for young people.
“One of the things that South Africa has got going for itself is that we have so many young people. We have more than 20 million people younger than 34 years old. So imagine what we can accomplish if we unlock all that potential."
She added that in her field of Economics of Technological Change she is better positioned to observe the opportunities available to young people and the areas in which one can make a difference.
“The jobs related to new technologies are growing exponentially, and that is why we have to give young people a chance to prepare for those jobs because the older traditional jobs will soon disappear. Also the path to studying computer science at university is not always open to all of them. This initiative is an alternative route for them to get into those jobs," she said.
Jafta says the programme will initially be rolled out to under-resourced schools in the Cape Metropole and Boland areas, and they are encouraged to apply to be enrolled in the programme. Successful schools will be selected by mid-January 2020. Participation is free of charge.
The aim is to get more than 500 Western Cape learners on the programme by 2020.
“In addition to coding, learners will also receive advice and assistance with their self-esteem, future careers, study habits and other needs that we observe in the children," said Jafta.
To be considered for the year-long programme, learners will be assessed “on their desire to commit to the programme and not necessarily on the level of their math skills".
She says they are willing to consider partnering with others in order to introduce the platform to young people in other regions.
“We designed the programme to be scalable, so if someone with similar initiatives would love to join our platform but manage it in another province then it is a sure way to scale faster," she said.
Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa, CEO of Naspers South Africa, said the project is aligned to the group's social impact initiative, Naspers Labs, which aims to tackle youth unemployment by up-skilling young people for future jobs.
So far more than 1 500 youth have passed through the Naspers Lab programme, and 79% of graduates have secured their first job.
- Cape Metropole and Boland schools in previously disadvantaged areas which are interested in joining the programme can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org by January 15, 2020. The name and contact details of the school should be included, as well as a brief overview of the school, motivating what it would mean to the learners to participate in this programme.
- Photo of Prof Rachel Jafta and one of the learners who participated in the WeCode24 launch by Daniel Bugan.