A school in the township of Zwelethemba near Worcester in Boland will send 16 learners to an international robotics competition in the United States.
This only a year after a maths teacher established a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Club at the school.
The Galactic Einsteins have won numerous competitions throughout South Africa to be nominated for the prestigious honour to represent their country.
Things are buzzing, ticking, bleeping and whirring inside two classrooms at Zwelethemba High School. The tech wizards of the STEM Club are focused and busy fine tuning their robots.
They’ve won accolades across South Africa and have trophies galore, including the First Lego League Robotics Nationals in Johannesburg. But what is remarkable is not their talent, because a year ago, most of them had never even touched a computer. 16-year-old Lilitha Siyo says learning robotics has equipped her with a new set of skills.
“I didn’t know anything, like I couldn’t even do anything on a computer. So, when it comes to robotics obviously I didn’t know anything. I had to first study how to use a computer, how to use a laptop so that I could transfer to me programming and building robots and now I’m skilled, gained a lot of experience, like at the competition, sure I’m going to be one on the top,” Siyo explains.
Zwelethemba young engineers head to the US:
The man responsible for their potential blooming is maths teacher Kudakwashe Takawira. He started a small club with 30 members. After school, and even during holidays, the children would come to learn about coding, programming and building robots from Legos. Before long, the demand was so great that, coding and robotics is a subject at the school.
“We don’t just teach robotics, we teach them to be innovative. We want them to be future innovators for their community, we teach them values and norms to work for themselves, to think outside the box. We want to give them rare skills which this school or the general education is not giving them. We have also discovered that starting engineering at university level it’s too late, we have to start it at grassroots level so we are cultivating at this infant age so that by the time they get to university they are well advanced and they are well off,” Takawira elaborates.
If not for the STEM club, many of the children that come from informal settlements would have never been exposed to the possibilities technology holds. Avuya Matyana says he is delighted to have gained skills on how to build a robot.
“It is very exciting. I never thought that I would do something like a robot that’s moving, I didn’t even know how to make a robot move, I didn’t even know how to build a robot but now when I came here, I learnt some programme skills, building skills and designing skills. It feels so exciting,” Matyana elaborates.
With the assistance of the Sakhikamva Foundation, the team will spend three weeks in Massachusetts. They will compete in the Internationals Robotics WPI Open Tournament. Coach Kuda as he is known, is certain his team will shine again.
“They are called Galactic Einsteins. They say what doesn’t kill us makes us even stronger. So I say Galactic Einsteins, let’s get this thing one more time and I’m sure in the United States, now at the top of the world, we’re going do it again. As usual, we’ve never been losers. See you at the top, let’s do it one more time,” says Kuda.
The children will also participate in workshops and training camps at some of the world’s most prestigious technological institutions
And if they didn’t know anything about robotics a year ago, it is anyone’s guess what innovations these little Galactic Einsteins will dream up in the future.