Robots bring SA pupils into the 21st century

2015-07-20 17:13
(Jenna Etheridge, News24)

(Jenna Etheridge, News24)

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Cape Town - With brows furrowed in concentration and small hands typing furiously away on laptops, a group of 26 kids soon realised there would be a lot of trial-and-error before they’d get it right. The challenge? To equip and programme a small robot to run through a course as part of the 'Pearl Diving Robotics Challenge'.

Patience and teamwork were just two of the skills that a group of primary school children from five of the Curro schools in the Western Cape would need as they took part in the school robotics challenge in Durbanville on Monday morning.

Robotics involves the design, construction, operation and application of robots. Although Monday's challenge was all about fun, the full version of the challenge in the World Robotics Olympiad requires children to build a robot that could "dive and explore under the sea for pearls", represented by Lego blocks on a multi-coloured course board.

South Africa’s potential future engineers, scientists and computer experts ran back and forth between their tables and courses set out on the floor in order to measure their progress ahead of a tested round.

“I like achieving what I set out to do,” said 12-year-old Indiphle Hansho, explaining why he loved robotics. He chipped in with advice as teammate Aiden van Blerck dropped and dragged components within the software.

The school group offered science and robotics as a subject, with robotics being taught for a term. There was also an extra-mural robotics club.

Dalene Gelderblom, who developed the curriculum and started training teachers in 2012, said the subject equipped children with essential skills in the global marketplace.

“It’s about collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. It also teaches meta-cognition and motivation,” she said.

“These are skills that a child will need... in the 21st century.”

While some of the older teachers were intimidated at first, Gelderblom said they soon embraced the curriculum.

Children had to work with their teammate for a term.

“In life, you can’t choose your colleagues and so they have to learn how to work with someone.”

Mia Vosloo, 12, who was hoping to be a doctor or marine biologist, said she really enjoyed the challenge.

“My favourite part is the testing because you can work out your mistakes and see where to fix them.”

The World Robot Olympiad (WRO) would hold regional competitions in the Western Cape and Gauteng within the next two weeks. Pupils from around the country will then take part in a national competition in September.

The country’s best may find themselves competing in the global WRO challenge in Doha, Qatar, in November.

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