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NICIS goes all out on outreach

It was a busy week for the National Integrated Cyberinfrastructure System (NICIS) outreach team!

The Data Intensive Research Initiative of South Africa (DIRISA) and Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) teams spent a week (22 – 26 March 2022) with learners from Atteridgeville, Pretoria, and the Waterberg Education District.

The DIRISA outreach initiative took place at the CSIR International Convention Centre, where 30 learners from Saulsridge Secondary School were recipients of the second Introduction to the Basic Concepts of Python Software Development that is specially designed for grades 10 and 11. The DIRISA team was led by Nobubele Shozi, Data Stewardship Manager.

Dr Lulama Wakaba, NextGen Enterprises and Institutions (NGEI) Executive Manager, opened the gathering by welcoming the learners to the CSIR, saying “We commend you for making the choice to equip yourselves with the necessary skills to address the pressing challenges of our country, continent and world at large. Software development is critical to many applications that have the potential to drive inclusive economic growth and improve the quality of life of all. Instead of complaining, you have started the journey of developing solutions. We look forward to working with you and experiencing what you will accomplish in future.”

The training covered introduction to computer hardware and software; installation of Python on a computer; and learning about variables, lists and strings, conditional statements and loops. Thulani Mashiane from CSIR ICT and Kamogelo Ramonyai from Human Capital management at the CSIR both delivered presentations to the students on the importance of cybersecurity awareness and CSIR graduate bursary opportunities. Representatives from Arm based in Cambridge, and Noluvuyo Gqadu of CodeNgwana also delivered presentations to the students on the importance of coding.

Figure 1: Dr Lulama Wakaba welcoming the students to the DIRISA High School Coding Training
Figure 2: CSIR Human Capital representative interacting with learners and answering questions on the various CSIR graduate programmes
Figure 3: Pupils from Saulsridge Secondary School and the DIRISA team after a successful training session

At the end of the introduction to Python training, the group was given a mini datathon challenge where they had to think of the problems in their community and try and to use technology to come up with solutions for them. One team identified that ambulances in their communities get hijacked and the emergency personnel is sometimes robbed at gunpoint. As a solution, the team proposed an uber-like ambulance service that one can easily request on a cell phone. This service would have a security guard to escort the patients to safety. Another team identified the problem of poor road infrastructure that affects their travel to school. This team proposed the use of technology such as robotics to assist in maintaining road infrastructure. Each team had to find statistics and data to support its problem, present the relevance of the problem and propose a solution. The event culminated in an awards ceremony at the end of the last day where all the learners received gifts and certificates of attendance.

CHPC Coding for School Learners

Figures 4: Deputy Minister in the Presidency, Pinky Kekana, addressing the Waterberg Coding Sensitisation Training for Learners in Thabazimbi, Limpopo

At the same time, in the Waterberg Education District, Limpopo, the CHPC outreach team, in conjunction with the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation of the Office of the Presidency, were rolling out the Coding Sensitising Workshop for School Learners.

Targeting grade 10 and 11 mathematics and physical science learners, the workshop is a hands-on session in which learners are introduced to Scratch coding, work on a project and learn how to create animations using the software. The workshop was led by Drs Daniel Moeketsi and Krishna Govender, both CHPC senior researchers.

The Mayor of Thabazimbi and the Waterberg District Education Manager also addressed the learners on the value of considering coding as a career and the changes that the 4IR will bring to future careers.

Figure 5: From left to right: Deputy Minister in the Office of The Presidency with Waterberg Education District Manager and the Mayor of Thabazimbi
Figure 7: The training moved to Lephalale where more learners were sensitised about coding

The training was rolled out through the education district and 80 learners were trained during the week. It covered introduction to Scratch; learning the basics about the scratch interface and pellets; basic animation of a character (getting a character to move); how to stay within the animation screen instead of popping out; and drawing shapes and learning about loops. All 80 learners received certificates attendance.

Figure 8: Some of the 80 learners with their certificates

Why does NGEI dedicate time to public engagements?

“These types of outreach programmes are critical for developing a pipeline to address skills shortages and raising awareness about careers that have the potential to drive digital transformation,” said Dr Wakaba.

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