Kids get free computers

2010-07-13 12:13

Cape Town - Several learners from disadvantaged communities have completed an outreach programme in computer programming and went home with their own computers.

"It's great and really cool. I like the environment of computers," course top achiever Lubabalo Bongweni told News24.

"I feel comfortable using computers and will use it for school assignments," said participant Azola Sithethi.

Learners with very little prior computer exposure were taught programming languages in a primarily Linux environment at the Centre for High Performance Computing in Cape Town and the course organisers feel that they will have the tools to begin further studies in computer programming.

"I wasn't confident in all of them, and during the course I had to go slow, but we have to start somewhere," said course developer and trainer Valentino van der Heyde, who is studying his masters in Space Weather Physics at UWC.

Digital divide

He explained the choice to teach using the Linux platform.

"Linux is a free OS (Operating System) and is also virtually virus free. Unlike Windows, it comes with a variety of useful applications which are also free and all the PCs the kids have has (Linux) Ubuntu installed," he said.

He conceded though, that in order to bridge the digital divide, the course needed to be expanded to a higher turnover rate.

"There are 19 in this group and we're planning for 30 per year, but we'll have to find resources to do more. We want to train teachers and might invite teachers from other provinces to do the course and hopefully teach it where they are," said Van der Heyde.

Mike Chiles, recently retired director for e-Learning at the Western Cape Education Department, said that the purpose of the course was in response to the drop in the number of IT students at school.

"It's something we've not got right: We're not providing sufficient technology to promote computing as a subject. The Khanya project supports the curriculum, but we need to develop skills in computing.

"Our IT numbers are dropping because our teachers are dropping. It's only in advantaged schools where IT teachers can be retained because those schools are able to augment salaries. Otherwise those teachers would be poached by industry," said Chiles, who leads the Western Cape chapter of the Computer Society.


He said that the bridging the digital divide was also about changing the mindset on computing.

"Most people have cellphones today and that indicates that they are not averse to technology, but we have to do more and I've used some contacts to ensure donations of computers. In many cases, the kids who take home these computers, it's the only computer for the family and even extended family," said Chiles.

He said that the main consideration of using open sourced software was cost and that the programming languages of Scratch and Python were to be included in the course at UCT soon.

The course, which is free to the learners, costs about R25 000, excluding equipment.

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  • - 2010-07-13 12:32

    Linux for the win! The BEST OS in the world = Ubuntu (a distro of linux). If only the world could be governed by the open source rules. Good to see the promotion of future computer programmers and tech's.

  • Ricc - 2010-07-13 13:01

    Anybody know of similar projects or people involved in similar projects in Johannesburg?

  • arfie - 2010-07-13 13:57

    anybody know of similar projects or people involved in similar projects in Pretoria?

  • Valentino van de Heyde - 2010-07-13 14:30

    Thank You, Duncan for a very nice article. For anyone out there who want to find out more about the project and maybe start a collaboration, please feel free to contact me via email:

  • Warren - 2010-07-13 14:32

    Excellent, i am hoping we can achieve something like this in our community. Well done guys!

  • nortee - 2010-07-14 11:01

    This is so awesome! I am a software developer (Windows-based though, sorry Valentino :P), but before I started working 'properly', I went back to my school and taught a few kids turbo pascal on little 386's. For those who haven't had the joy of molding young minds, it really really is very awesome.

    I hope that there can be more projects like this all over the country. I know I would be happy to help if I can!

  • Izak - 2010-07-15 14:47

    Nice story. It's not at all clear who initiated this project, though.

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