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Robotics inspires learners to pursue STEM careers

  • By Staff Writer, SAASTA
Teams focussing on the Not So Nano quiz game
Teams competing during the final robot round
From the Back : The winning team from Tzaneen. Front seated: Dr Gouws (left), Mr Felix Spies (middle) and Mr Tebalo Tsatsi (right).

The South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA), in collaboration with the Inspired towards Science Engineering and Technology (I-SET), a community engagement flagship project of UNISA college of Science, Engineering and Technology hosted the final round of the first techno youth robotics national competition on the 09 – 11 December at UNISA Science Campus in Florida, Johannesburg.

The competition is a community engagement project that aims to make science accessible to all learners in South Africa. It introduces learners to robotics, stimulate interest in the sciences and encourage excellence. Moreover, it intends to expose young learners to robotics and inspire them to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related careers. Dr Patricia Gouws, Project Leader for I-SET said the Techno Youth Project was established five years ago and she is proud of the growth and impact of the project. “When we started, we only had workshops in science centres but now we have grown it to become a national competition with some of the provinces represented,” she added.

“We want to grow robotics in this country and we also hope to grow the competition even more with all provinces represented in our future competitions,” said Dr Gouws.

“The learners that we target are learners at GET phase because research has suggested that imparting skills in learners at a young age has a positive impact on future learning and intellectual ability,” said Mr Tebalo Tsatsi, Science Education Project Coordinator at SAASTA. “There is a need to explore ways that encourage access to education and, specifically, STEM in disadvantaged schools and this competition intends to do just that,” he added.

The final round had eight teams consisting of four learners a team from Science Centres across the country competing for the prize. Science Centres are hubs, which assist SAASTA and I-SET to motivate learners to participate in the competition and motivate science clubs. . The challenge for the teams was to build a robot, programme it and use it to perform tasks such as picking up something.

Mr Felix Spies, the founder of split second science a foundation from the Northern Cape explained that he is happy that the competition is making strides in promoting robotics amongst South African learners. He noted that he is quite happy with all the teams participating because all the learners were able to code and complete tasks.
“This just shows that programmes that they are engaged in their respective science Centres are actually making a difference,” he said. Mr Spies runs six robotics clubs in villages in the Northern Cape Province. He believes that events like these are important, because it allows learners to engage and learn.

Competition results

The team from Kwazulu-Natal Science Centre came in third place, taking home backpacks and scientific calculators’ prize. Second place went to the team from North West Science Centre. The team won a robotics kit and backpacks. The top prize went to the Greater Tzaneen Community foundation team based in Limpopo. The team won backpacks, robotics kit and expansion set for the science centre. The team will use this kit to prepare for the first ever LEGO League Competition.

“We are so happy to have won the competition. It means a lot to the learners,” said Mosa Lekoloane, from the winning Science Centre. “I am particularly happy because it motivate other learners in our community to get involved in sciences. It’s important that we continue working hard to developing rural areas so that they take part in science related competitions,” added Lekoloane.