NGO teaches children to build robots

Benjamin Louw and Kylin Solomons working on their robots at the holiday workshop run by ORT SA Cape Trust.

Seawinds pupils between the ages of six and 12 had a chance to build their own robots when they attended a holiday programme run by ORT SA Cape Trust from Wednesday June 29 until Friday July 1 at the Cape Town Science Centre in Observatory.

The children form part of a group from the Cape Flats Development Association (CAFDA), and were given free lessons in robotics, courtesy of ORT.

The children used kits to build robots using technological design principles, which help to develop critical thinking, reading and listening skills and hand-eye coordination skills.

Through this, children are taught valuable skills which can steer them towards the technology, design, engineering and science industries.

The ORT SA Cape Trust is an education NGO which aims to create social change through broadening minds and empowering children and teachers.

They conduct monitoring and evaluation research, specialist training and run accredited courses which are designed for teachers. The Constructive After-School Programme for Enrichment was launched in 2012 and is aimed at helping disadvantaged youth and adults with reading, homework, technology, mathematics, science, robotics and drama. It focuses on children at schools and orphanages in the Western Cape.

Dr Lydia Abel became the director at the NGO in 2010. The organisation first began to teach technology to teachers but evolved and now also teaches the students.

“We are very mindful of the fact that middle class children get opportunities in middle class society which poor children don’t get. Our objective is through our motto, reach them to teach them, in which we wanted to get the robotics program to those who would benefit from it the most,” said Dr Abel.

The NGO won tenders from the Western Cape Education Department in 2013 to do monitoring and evaluation.

“It is important for us and what we do to know what is happening out in the field and we are trying to learn more about what is happening in the field of education and how we can take part. We are not a big organisation, but the number of children we reach through the teachers we teach, both directly and indirectly, is quite significant. It’s a lot of people we can influence”.

According to Dr Abel, in the past year the organisation has reached 15 000 people through their teaching and training methods.

They work at various schools in the Western Cape; six schools in Stellenbosch, three schools in Wellington, one in Franschhoek, Good Hope Seminary Junior School in the city centre, Hector Pieterson School in Wallacedene and Baphumalela orphanage in Khayelitsha.

“We sometimes pack the car full of robotics and we just go. One week we do robotics, the next week we do reading skills,” said Dr Abel.

“Most of the children at the orphanage attend different schools. Many of the principals from the schools have got in contact with the principal of the orphanage because of the major progress these learners are making through the robotics program. We wanted to get children off the streets and help them through enriching their educational experience.”

“We are trying to get the schools to have (robotics) as an extra mural activity because the children are learning from the classes, working as teams and have even entered competitions with the robotics. This is very important because these kids don’t play sport. They could have two left feet but a brilliant brain and it’s not being recognised in that regard,” said Dr Abel.

According to Dr Abel, the robotics programme reaches around 4 000 children. It is funded by the public and various other organisations.

Teachers are trained by ORT SA staff as well as a network of outside consultants.

Through a partnership with Boland College, teachers have the opportunity to attend certified courses in technology, mathematics and science. The teachers are required to pay a registration fee to the institution, and the rest of the training courses are funded by ORT.

In order to train one teacher, it costs ORT R18 000. The robotics programmes are also funded by the organisation and costs between R5 000 and R6 000 for the kits used in schools.

The organisation welcomes any donations to help train teachers and buy robotics to enrich the minds and lives of underprivileged children. “We are educators first and foremost, we are not a business,” said Dr Abel.

For more information, contact ORT SA CAPE on 021 448 8516 or Dr Abel on 082 888 2531.