Grades R to 3 will start coding and robotics classes next year. Is it really a good idea?

"We will be piloting this curriculum from January 2020 in Grade R-3 and Grade 7"
"We will be piloting this curriculum from January 2020 in Grade R-3 and Grade 7"

The Department of Education has announced that it will be implementing what President Cyril Ramaphosa promised during his 2019 State of the Nation Address, confirming that coding and robotics will be included in the school curriculum for Grades R to 3 and Grade 7, reports News24

"We have developed the Grade R to Grade 3 Coding and Robotics curriculum, and the design of the Grade 4 to 9 curriculum is at an advanced stage. We will be piloting this curriculum from January 2020 in Grade R to 3 and in Grade 7," Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga said at the Basic Education Budget Vote Speech.

A total budget of R281.2 billion 

The Minister also revealed that "the total budget allocation for the DBE and those of the nine provincial education departments combined, is R281.2 billion," and that the department has identified foundational literacy and mathematical skills as well as "21st-century skills" as top priority areas. 

Referencing research by the University of Oxford, and UNESCO, which predict that up to 60% of jobs today will be non-existent in the next decade or two, the Minister stressed that the need to introduce digital subjects is "responsive to the demands of the changing world."

Africa Teen Geeks, UNISA, North West University, ORT South Africa and Globenet, with the DBE, have worked together to develop a framework for coding Grade R to 9.

Motshekga thanked the University of South Africa (UNISA) that has generously agreed to partner with the DBE by making available their 24 ICT laboratories throughout the country for the training of 72 000 teachers in coding.

The platform will also need to be available in all 11 languages, she said, ensuring rural and township children have access to coding and robotics resources in their mother tongue.

Must read: The Department of Education’s proposed no repeat policy for grade R to 3 will do more harm than good to the state of education in SA

Robotics will not require any infrastructure

The robotics curriculum is set to have a strong foundation in engineering in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and learners will be able to build and operate robots through programming code.

Motshekga said the robotics curriculum will not require any infrastructure or devices. Instead maker spaces will be necessary to provide students with hands-on ways to design, experiment, build and invent. Cardboard construction activities, for example, are useful robotics teaching tools.

A waste of time? 

Not everyone is convinced that Grade R to 3 is an appropriate time to introduce these subjects. Parents want to prepare their kids for an increasingly technological world, but is teaching them these concepts at such a young age the right thing to do?

The topic might be hotly debated at the school PTA, but in broader terms experts have weighed in too, with Andreas Schleicher, the director of education and skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) saying that teaching kids to code is a waste of time.

In fact, he is reported as commenting that by the time today's child grows up, coding will be obsolete.

Also see: 50% of children have never read a book with their parents – here's why we need to encourage reading early on

2 per cent of the labour force

Alex Usher, who runs consulting firm Higher Education Strategy Associates in Canada, is reported to have said "Coding is a valuable skill – for maybe 2 per cent of the labour force. What the rest of us need is digital literacy and proficiency".

He added "Being able to write software is not the issue: Rather, it is the ability to apply and use software productively that is the issue."

Must read: South Africa’s reading crisis: focus on the root cause - teacher training

Creative play

And what about creativity, curiosity and play, not to mention that the country is facing a literacy crisis? Shouldn't the DBE's attention, and funds, be focused on the basics of the foundation phase?

Do you think Grades R to 3 is the right time to introduce coding and robotics to children? 

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