UWC honours student Janine Anthony was invited by the Mozilla Foundation to attend their annual Mozilla Festival in Greenwich (UK) at the University of Ravensbourne last month, to discuss her work teaching young learners from disadvantaged communities about the internet, leadership and the basics of coding.
She returned from the international festival (three nights, two days, 402 sessions, 19 speakers from over 40 countries around the world) with new insights for addressing the challenge of computer science at schools in South Africa.
“Seeing kids as young as thirteen already being inventors, already developing technological solutions to real problems – that showed me that my work has just begun.”
These are the words of University of the Western Cape (UWC) honours student Janine Anthony (BCom Honours IS class of 2017), who was invited by the Mozilla Foundation to attend their annual Mozilla Festival in Greenwich (UK) at the University of Ravensbourne at the end of October*.
“It’s a huge international festival: three nights, two days, 402 sessions, 19 speakers from over 40 countries around the world,” says Anthony. “I learned a lot there.”
The Delft-based Anthony runs one of the UWC Mozilla Technology Clubs at Perseverance High School in Belhar, where she teaches Grade 9 pupils about the internet, leadership and the basics of coding.
Her concern is that we as South Africans have a lot more to do in the area of web literacy if we want to keep up with the pace of technological change around the world.
“Our learners here in South Africa are not as exposed to technology as they should be, and many schools and communities are still under-resourced when it comes to technology,” Anthony says. “At schools in areas like Belhar, you’d see fully-equipped computer labs just sitting there like a white elephant, with no one to teach learners even basic computer literacy.”
She says there isn’t sufficient continuous learning in the subject since many children do not have laptops or internet access at home or school. There also needs to be more technology subjects at school level – schools are in a serious need of technology teachers.
“We need assistance from government to create infrastructure for community server hubs that would allow under-resourced communities internet access,” she says. “I want our kids to be included and grow to a level the rest of the world is at.”
Mozfest is about fostering collaboration across disciplines, borders and continents, in a joint effort to face the biggest issues of the day – from fake news and online harassment to global cyberattacks and information technology for development. The focus is on practical, open source solutions.
“I was invited by the Mozilla Foundation to share what I do in Cape Town South Africa, share ideas of teaching and what challenges South Africans face and experience.
This is where she proudly represented UWC and facilitated a talk about the community work she was doing in South Africa.
“I teach young children from our @mozlearn clubs and local communities web and digital literacy. I believe in empowering our future leaders with the skills they need to thrive in the digital era. The mission is to spread awareness of the internet and teaching basic coding: a whole new language for children to speak fluently and express themselves in the 21st century.
Anthony works with learners from Perseverance High School in Belhar, a community in Cape Town where crime is rife.
“My focus is mainly web literacy and I gathered insight and plans from around the world to share these skills and tools for teaching about the web in our communities.
Anthony is grateful for the support of Dr Mmaki Jantjies, Head of Information Systems at UWC, who heads up the Mozilla Tech Club at UWC.
“It’s all about changing the mindset of children who experience drugs, gangsterism and poverty as the norm. They are exposed to a possibility of a new life just by changing their thinking and using their tech skills to secure a comfortable future.
“The sad part, for me, is that not every child can be reached at the same time, and not everyone will be interested, and not everyone will see the viability right now. But the seed is planted and I can only live in hope that when they are faced with choices, they would choose the correct one.
“Dr Jantjies assists and provides guidance in our previously disadvantaged communities, and sets a great example for us to follow,” says Anthony, “and I am very proud that I can contribute to South Africa’s growth in terms of investing in our youth and the future leaders of tomorrow.”
The Mozilla Festival not only sparked Anthony’s insight into the dire challenges with computer science at schools, but also gave her a sense of hope.
“Mozfest made me realize that even though we always assume some countries are ‘better off’, we are really faced with exactly the same challenges in our communities – and that we can learn from one another and apply solution-based initiatives to change mind-sets and add a bit of colour to our children’s dreams.”