January 27, 2021

VOICES | Coding and Robotics for Grade R to 3: Is it Practical?

(Photo: An individual coding on a computer, Picture Christina Morillo/Pexels)
By Ncuthukazi Webber
Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga recently announced that a new curriculum based on coding and robotics is ready to be presented in schools from Grade R to Grade 3 in 2020. The South African education system is facing many challenges, is it practical to phase in a new curriculum that will need prohibitive expenses?
Presenting coding and robotics for primary scholars as a strategic response to the imminent developments that the fourth industrial revolution has introduced is an interesting prospect as it may usher in a generation of human capital equipped to change the challenges facing the country in terms of employment and the economy. Motshekga revealed that the pilot programme will begin in January 2020 with the department of basic education identifying mathematics and foundational literacy as key skills of the new curriculum. A budget of R281.2 billion has been allocated by the departments implementing the pilot.
In the past, the minister has rejected the existence of a crisis in basic education however, it is noteworthy that the World Economic Forum ranked South Africa’s mathematics and science education at 148 out of 148 countries and 146 in the overall quality of education. 
The new curriculum is said to be available in all 11 official languages of the country to accommodate learners in the rural areas, with the large portion of the country living in poverty, the practicality of teaching impoverished students IT and robotics is questionable. Although the robotics curriculum will not need infrastructure, and the advent of mobile computer facilities in schools will make things easier for the short term, the maintenance of these skills developments may need for the students to have access to computers and internet in the long term.
Impeding challenges in school infrastructure and the education system are still relevant. In March 2018, the National Education Infrastructure Management System reported that R16 billion is needed to provide computer labs with internet access, a total of 11 858 primary schools in the country have no computer labs and 3 590 high schools have no computer labs.
The question of practicality is brought on by economic concerns and lack of basic infrastructure in the South African basic education system. Perhaps the scale at which the curriculum is presented should be considered, is it necessary for every learner in South Africa to have in-depth knowledge on coding and robotics or does each learner just need a basic understanding? Grade R to Grade 3 are early stages in a child’s life and they can learn at the risk of forgetting the knowledge they have acquired due to lack of infrastructure for practice and maintenance after that 3-year term.

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