The school community of Laerskool Kruinsig in Kempton Park has once again proven that DIY is the building blocks of success, by setting up a fancy robotics center without state aid and starting to hone their learners’ technological skills early on.
This robotics center opened its doors in February this year and is equipped to familiarize children from foundation to senior stage with basic terms and skills in coding and programming.
Rhewal it reported earlier that Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education, already announced in 2020 during the launch of the 2019 national matric results that robotics and coding will be implemented as subjects at selected public schools.
According to Motshekga, the end goal is to eventually integrate it into the national school curriculum, but the education department’s 2019 performance plan indicated that only 64% of the country’s schools had some form of internet connection. This can include everything from just one working computer on the premises to a full-fledged computer centre.
Jana van Niekerk, a parent and chairman of Laerskool Kruinsig’s governing body, says that this school community therefore did not want to leave their children’s future solely in the department’s hands and decided to put their shoulder to the wheel themselves.
“Section 21 of the schools act gives a school’s governing body freedom to add enrichment subjects to schools at its own expense according to the needs of the school and the community. The robotics center is therefore not only for Kruinie learners, but also available to the larger community in a club context after school hours,” she explains.
“Covid-19 caused particular challenges because parents were struggling with school fees and sitting at home with their children. They were negative and frustrated about the situation and we wanted to do something to cheer them up, but also prove what we can empower if we make thorough plans and reach out to the wider community,” says Roelof Janse van Vuren, treasurer of the school’s governing body.
Roelof, who has a financial background, devised a plan with the school’s reserves to carry out a technological upgrade of the school, which would provide good internet connection and free Wi-Fi for the learners, laptops for the teachers as well as Eduboards (digital black boards ‘) include ensuring during partial lockdowns that classes could continue with home education unimpeded.
“This started to make our parents positive about the idea of renewal and improvement. When they saw what could be done if we reinvested in our school ourselves, the collection of school fees also improved.”
The governing body, which has been serving since 2020, says that the robotics center has, however, required a great community effort amid several setbacks.
“Our principal died a few days before the opening of our brand new grade R center due to Covid-19 and of course the impact of that and of the pandemic left a lasting impression on everyone. That’s why we wanted to do something to bring people together and make them positive. After all, the purpose of a school as a community institution is not only to offer children the best possible development and education, but also to bring communities together and serve,” Roelof believes.
According to the governing body, the new head Nico Loggenberg’s passion for the renewal and progress of the school and community is “contagious”.
Kruinsig Primary School is also one of many Afrikaans schools that experience additional pressure due to rural depopulation and that is exactly why, according to them, it is important to think ahead.
“We decided to put the school back in the spotlight and position it in such a way that people have a reason to stay here and send their children to good quality Afrikaans primary schools in the area. That is also how one is going to ensure Afrikaans high schools in these environments’ future,” adds Roelof.
This is how the light for a robotics center went on, and in November 2022 the first sod was turned for the center and in February this year its extremely modern doors were opened.
“It really looks like the center could be from a futuristic film in Silicon Valley,” says Herman Burger, also a member of the governing body, broad-chested.
Currently, robotics and programming are offered as a school and extracurricular subject and even though around 17% of this school’s learners cannot pay school fees, thanks to subsidization they are not deprived of these new facilities and skills.
“Robotics and coding are the entryway into the world of information technology. Our children live in an era where they need to understand much more than just Microsoft Excel and Word,” says Izelle van Kraayenburg, who handles marketing on behalf of the governing body.
She emphasizes that thorough communication between parents and schools is crucial to tackle such a project successfully.
“My mother was a teacher and I know first hand that communication between parents and schools is not always seamless, but there are always parents who are willing to make a difference, they just need to be brought in and made part of the process. Thanks to that communication, the wallets of parents who can afford it are always open when there are big projects.
“But this center belongs to everyone in the school, because everyone had to come together in a way to make it happen.”
As parents, the governing body members already see first-hand the effect this subject has on their own children.
“They learn how to think critically and logically about things and not just stare at a screen. It’s screen time with a purpose. It gives them the exposure to where the world is going,” adds Roelof.
The governing body’s hope is that Kruinsig Primary School can encourage other primary schools to take the bull by the horns themselves and devise a plan to improve their children’s education, regardless of their location or financial obstacles.
Nico feels incredibly proud that this school’s dream could come true and, moreover, create opportunities for children in the Kempton Park area who otherwise would not have had them.
“In this short time, our children have become much more technologically oriented than before and their creative thinking has also been much more stimulated. In addition, our teachers also now see an opportunity to broaden their professional development by offering these classes.”
He further says that the education department wants to officially start implementing robotics in schools across the country in 2025 and their school is therefore geared up should these plans materialize.
“Our aim is not to take decisions about education in our own hands, but rather to make a difference in the wider community’s needs.”
Why support Robotics as a subject?
Celeste Labuschagne, head of the robotics association at the Schools Support Center (SOS), says this subject involves much more than just building blocks or playing with robots.
Here, subjects such as science, mathematics and computer programming are brought together so that learners have to apply their knowledge in a practical, innovative way.
“Learners are often given a problem to solve in a robotics class and then write an algorithm or a simple solution in simple words to solve it. For example, smaller children will make arrows around a path for a ‘robot’ to move from one point to another.”
“Along with that, they must be creative and learn to communicate well.
“Learners also learn how to apply the design process to design robots themselves and even for that there is no need to use expensive equipment or materials,” says Celeste.
“Basic coding skills can be practiced in many ways that do not cost money. For example, learners can write algorithms to find persons in a specific place on a ‘grid’. We call it body coding.”
South Africa has also participated in the World Robotics Olympiad (WRO) since 2010. Rhewal has reported earlier that young people are brought together here annually to develop their creativity, design and problem-solving skills through educational robot challenges.
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