Change the world

10/02/2020

A mobile coding game project, developed at Nelson Mandela University (NMU) and designed to teach computer programming to disadvantaged children, is set to be showcased to the world.

The co-ordinator of TANKS, BOATS and RANGERS, NMU computing sciences Prof Jean Greyling, has been invited to roll out the project to high-level delegates at Mobile Learning Week, the United Nations’ flagship annual information, education and communication technology event.

Greyling said on Friday he was overjoyed when he heard the news from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) earlier in the week that he had been invited to the 2020 edition of the event, which is due to run from March 2-6 in Paris.

“It’s great news. What we have is an indigenous African solution and I strongly believe we have a contribution to make when it comes to the inclusion of disadvantaged communities.”

In his invitation, Unesco representative Juan Osses said the March event was going to be a pivotal one.

“It is designed to steer the use of artificial intelligence towards the direction of inclusion and equity in education — core values underpinning the Sustainable Development Goals and digital opportunities for all.”

He said Greyling was the only one of 250 applicant project developers who had been invited to speak at the plenary session of the event.

“This is due to the outstanding quality of your proposal and its high relevance to this year’s theme of artificial intelligence and inclusion.

“As a plenary speaker you will have a high-level audience including policy makers, investors, international organisations, universities and private information technology and education partners.”

Greyling said the original TANKS coding game app, developed by NMU postgraduate computing sciences student Byron Batteson, used image recognition and tangible tokens like puzzle pieces on a mobile device, thereby introducing basic coding concepts without the need for a computer. It included 35 levels of increasing complexity which made it fun and enthralling for children.

Two additional coding apps using the same concept had then been introduced — BOATS, which taught players about plastics in the ocean, and RANGERS, which had a game poaching theme.

The three mobile coding games were a fun way to tackle a serious reality, he said.

“In SA nearly 16,000 of 25,000 schools do not have computer laboratories.

“Furthermore, a vast majority of teachers in the system are not equipped to teach coding to learners.

“Within the context of the 4IR, and the fact that software development is one of the most scarce global skills, learners from these schools stand the real danger of being excluded from modern economical trends and benefits.”

Political leaders were pushing the wide-scale introduction of coding and robotics, highlighting in the media the benefits of these skills, he said.

“Learners, teachers and parents are acutely aware of this, causing real anxiety in disadvantaged communities.”

He said TANKS had already been introduced to about 20,000 school youngsters at school coding workshops.

“The vast majority of these learners are from schools in townships and rural communities which do not have computer laboratories.”

Schools had embraced the workshops since very little training was needed for teachers to roll it out and various benefits had materialised, he said.

“The main one is that learners are starting to dream about software developing as a future career.”

Greyling said the Paris event was also going to be an opportunity to engage with colleagues from the Yields of Evocative Entrepreneurial Approaches in Environment and Society collaboration which involved academics from NMU, Namibia, Mozambique and Germany.

“We will be exploring rollout possibilities for our mobile coding project into different countries, using it to boost inclusion and improve community resilience.”

For an overview of the NMU coding project, go to https://youtu.be/kO3fJyVrbec

OFF TO PARIS: NMU computing science professor Jean Greyling, coordinator of the university’s mobile coding project, with some of the tangible pieces which are part of the games to be presented in Paris

This artilce appeared in The Weekend Post of 8 February 2020 written by Guy Rogers.

 

Contact information
Prof. Jean Greyling
Associate Professor
Tel: 27 41 504 2081
jean.greyling@mandela.ac.za