The Africa University Innovation Hub has embarked on a visionary and game changing programme – AU Kids for Computing, to harness budding talent in IT from primary and secondary schools in urban Mutare. In a 3- week series of workshops , the first of which was launched on the 11th of June 2021, children of Africa University staff ranging from ages 6- 12 were trained in basic computer skills for beginners. Creative thinking and basic windows programmes training was conducted for intermediary learners, while programming in computer languages such as Python, C-Sharp and Java were taught for advanced students. Secondary school learners shall participate in weeks two and three of the programme.
i5 Hub Manager and lead in the project Ms. Yollanda Washaya provided insight into the motivations and long term goals of the programme.
“AU kids for computing is being built within the family ecosystem where the parents are involved from the beginning . This will foster development of the programme as parents will understand their children’s needs for them to succeed beyond the simple training that we are giving. This is not a once off event as we intend to create content that will feed into a hyflex model as we will then have a database of all our participants and some measure of what their capabilities are which will help us in creating content and interactions for the long term.”
Ms. Washaya went on to speak of the importance of grooming the young in technology and not waiting until early adulthood to introduce IT to learners.
“We are always breaking the mold and looking for new ways in which we can support and nurture the spirit of innovation and interest in technology. We found that not only at a national level but indeed in many African countries, computers are introduced to learners at what is considered to be a very late stage in the education process such as towards the end of their secondary education , if at all, or at university level. If we are to seriously engage in STEM and root it into our education systems, we need to be deliberate by bestowing in our children work- ready digital skills at a basic level which they can build upon as they progress.”
The training given to the children does not end with the face to face practical training but will also follow them into their homes as the i5Hub has prepared course materials that shall be distributed to parents for them to work through alongside their children.
Drawn from the breadth of staff members of the university, close to 70 children attended the first workshop with Sr Tsitsi Murapa of the Bishop Alfred Norris Clinic on hand to debrief the participants before the session on COVID- 19 protocols and the importance of observing the set regulations. Volunteer facilitators from the university ICT department and Africa University students led the courses and training. Mrs. Tich Chiomba, Examinations Assistant in the Academic Affairs Department and volunteer in the initiative said,
“It is such a pleasure to see parents taking such a keen interest in preparing their children for the future which will be largely digital and to see the eagerness and excitement on the faces of the children as they learn varying levels of competencies in the use of computers. Nobody is too young or too old to learn and for us , it is important to teach our children these skills early in their academic lives to build their confidence in using these critical tools. I volunteered to teach in this programme because teaching is a passion for me and this is my small way of giving back to Africa University.”
According to Statistica, in 2019, only 7,7% of homes in Africa were estimated to have a computer , further to this, only 19 % of Africa was online in 2019 compared to 87% in developed countries.*
Such gaps in access to technology between developed and developing nations paints a bleak picture of the preparedness of the African continent to actively participate in the digital economy. The onset of the Pandemic that has disrupted learning especially in educational systems that are not technologically capacitated to migrate lessons online leaves learners from disadvantaged backgrounds excluded from the new normal of education.
Such complexities in the access the technology in the developing world makes programmes such as these that have been launched by the i5 Hub timely and a step in the right direction towards introducing more young Africans into the digital world and the internet of things.
Young learner Tanaka Makambwa said of the experience,
” I like computers . They are easy to use and help us do so much. I came here to learn more about them and share what I know with my friends.”
Liam Simango said,
“Computers help us with so much. They help us do things like communicate with people from all over the world.”
Amare Tendekai Kuture shared how versatile computers have become and how involved they are in our daily lives in all forms.
“Computers entertain, they educate, some of them can even help us keep healthy. They are everywhere which is why it is important to learn how to interact with them and use them.”
Namatai Atida Praise Machona who was a member of the novice class expressed why he thought the experience was worthwhile,
” I am glad to be here to learn how to use a computer. I think it is very good because it will help us when we grow up at work and at school.”
In addition to the training , the i5hub shall activate science clubs within the schools of the respective participants also funding in collaboration with development partners , science fairs and exhibitions made for and driven by children to keep the momentum going. The work of the hub feeds into the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education’s curriculum renewal that introduces STEM subjects to children at the early stages of their academic development.