We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. Emerging technologies – artificial intelligence, mobile apps, Internet of Things, cloud computing, big data and robotics are impelling us to drastically rethink our skillsets if we hope to survive the Fourth Industrial Revolution. One critical success factor skill, and an important element of readiness for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, is the ability to code or computer programming – what makes it possible for us to create computer software, apps and websites. At its meeting on 12 October, The BRIDGE Post-school Access Community of Practice featured three upcoming coders from WeThinkCode who are working to develop this important 21st century skill. Kgomotso Mofokeng, Thabiso Mothobeki and Victor Makhubele shared their experiences of learning to code, and the work they are currently doing to develop a mobile application for BRIDGE’s post-school access map.
A new approach to learning
WeThinkCode is an adaptation to South African conditions of a free coding school model that originated in France. Selection is by means of a test to assess logical reasoning, followed by an intensive four-week computer programming ‘bootcamp’ that challenges and evaluates the applicants’ ability to cope with the demanding environment, aptitude for technical tasks and personal attributes. ‘Bootcamp’ is a unique opportunity for young people to learn about themselves while they learn about coding and software technology.
Those selected then begin a two-year course in programming and coding, and complete an internship to obtain work experience. There are no teachers or classes. Instead, students learn from each other and the internet, using a project-based approach. The project solutions being developed have the potential to improve people’s lives throughout Africa, although there is a need for funding to take these ideas forward. WeThinkCode is supported by a range of companies that sponsor students and provide internships.
Coming from a variety of backgrounds, the students find the environment inspiring and motivating. They enjoy having the freedom to be creative, to take responsibility for their own learning, and to decide for themselves how to approach tasks and meet criteria and deadlines. For all of them, the most challenging part initially was keeping up with this new way of working and learning. Their future plans – after working for their sponsors for a year – range from entrepreneurial ventures to video game development and software development for the business sector.
Collaboration with BRIDGE
The mobile app development forms part of the students’ final social technology project, which has to relate to the UN’s millennium development goals (in this case, education), and address an African problem (in this case, barriers to accessing information).
The application is aimed at broadening and increasing access to BRIDGE’s Post-school Access Map. The application retains the spirit of the map, while making it more interactive and accessible to a wider audience. One change has been to reduce the number of clicks needed to navigate through the map. More features are being added to increase user-friendliness and accessibility. These include functions to reduce data usage and to share the application with others using Bluetooth or WiFi hotspots, which will be helpful in rural areas with poor internet connectivity. There are also plans for a forum that will allow users to ask questions and interact with others.
Partnering with BRIDGE provides the students with an existing live site to work with, and a means of reaching the application’s target audience. For BRIDGE, the partnership opens the way for many more potential users to access and benefit from the map. The application will be shared with principals at the BRIDGE Principals CoPs, who will roll it out to their school communities.