The children of Graaff-Reinet are fondly known by some as the stofkinders of the Karoo. The term stofkinders is an Afrikaans term which loosely translates to ‘dust children’ and describes the children of the barren Karoo who play and learn in the dust. They leave and arrive home in the dust, go to school in the dust, and do all the work of children in the dust.
For the children of Graaff-Reinet, their physical environment is just a small part of the challenges they face in their daily lives. They are growing up in an area with difficulties like pervasive poverty and high unemployment rates. They experience daily struggles with theft of community resources, vandalism of local infrastructure, and long-standing water shortages, all of which impact the children across their various learning sectors. There is also very little support in early learning sectors, and early learning practitioners and schoolteachers often struggle with funding and resources.
The outreach work of Care for Education helps improve educational outcomes and the quality of learning for children in Graaff-Reinet where funding and resources are low. A few early learning centres use the Play Box as a tool to playfully foster critical developmental skills, executive functioning, literacy, and numeracy. There are 15 schools in Graaff-Reinet, all of which run robotics programmes to enhance learning processes. Robotics brings together young learners to develop creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills necessary for the 4th Industrial Revolution.
During the week of the 20th of June 2022, Care for Education ran a 2-day robotics training for 15 teachers representing different schools in Graaff-Reinet. The teachers were given plenty of opportunities to familiarise themselves with the robot in use, which was the LEGO® MINDSTORMS® EV3. The robot allows users to code programmes using building blocks, and each LEGO® MINDSTORMS® EV3 can connect to different sensors, including a light sensor and an ultrasonic sensor. For many teachers, the training was their first time working with robots. They began sharing experiences and knowledge, and the excitement in the hall was evident as they began completing tasks successfully and understanding the potential of LEGO® MINDSTORMS® EV3 in learning programmes. The teachers left the training with new skills, a few sets of LEGO® MINDSTORMS® EV3 for their schools, and a challenge mat.
There are currently 29 teachers with robotics training in Graaff-Reinet, and the opportunities and creative possibilities are endless for children. The use of robotics and technology is a learning process and changes how children learn about everything, not just about robots. For the stofkinders of the Karoo, participating in robotics programmes not only enhances learning but also opens doors to new careers and international exposure in the 4th Industrial Revolution. With coding and robotics soon materialising in the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS), outreach robotics provides the stofkinders of South Africa with opportunities to bridge educational gaps and helps make sure they are never left in the dust of contemporary education.
Some teachers share their experiences and thoughts about robotics and the potential of LEGO® MINDSTORMS® EV3 during their training in the week of the 20th of June 2022: