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New subject in South African schools facing challenges

Many South African schools have welcomed the Department of Basic Education’s (DBE) decision to formalise Coding and Robotics as a subject in public schools. However, significant challenges may hinder the implementation of this decision.

Coding and Robotics now part of the curriculum

At the beginning of the month, the DBE officially added the subject to the roster for Grades R to 9. The DBE piloted the subject in several schools. They started with a small test group in Grades R to 3 in 2021. It is now officially part of the National Curriculum Statement (NCS).

The Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS) welcomed the decision to include Coding and Robotics in the curriculum. FEDSAS stated that it was a step in the right direction. They added that it will ‘assist in equipping learners with 21st century skills and preparing them for the 4th industrial revolution’.

The DBE has included the subject alongside Mathematics for Grades R to 3. For Grades 4 to 9, it is included alongside Mathematics, Natural Sciences, and Technology.

“The value of these skills cannot be overstated and listing Coding and Robotics for Grades R–9 is a step in the right direction. We are anxious to see the final syllabus as the draft has been around for some time. Progress in these fields can be measured on a weekly basis, so any content should not only be up to date but also updated regularly.”       

Riaan van der Bergh, Deputy CEO of FEDSAS and Manager of the FEDSAS Centre for Technology

However, FEDSAS pointed out key issues that the DBE will have to address for the implementation to be successful. They emphasised three challenges in particular.

Main challenges facing implementation

Firstly, funding presents a major challenge, especially for no-fee schools and those in poorer communities. Subjects like Coding and Robotics involve numerous additional expenses. In addition to learning materials and textbooks, schools must also budget for hardware, software, etc.

Secondly, the issue of teacher training is significant. Van der Bergh pointed out that educators in South Africa are seldom trained or upskilled in technical disciplines, creating a hurdle in the process.

Lastly, capacity is also a challenge and forms part of teacher training. FEDSAS suggests that the DBE should collaborate with the private sector for support. There are already abundant resources available, with many of them being free of charge. Van der Bergh said that there are several service providers in the market that are keen to support schools in the process. 

One of their partners has supported more than 300 schools in implementing Coding and Robotics, reaching more than 150 000 learners. 

While not all learners may pursue a future career that involves technology, having a basic knowledge of the tools of the 21st century is beneficial for all learners. It is also important to note that Coding and Robotics is not completely separate from other school subjects. Subjects such as Mathematics and Science also benefit from it.

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