Overview of Project

South Africa faces numerous challenges with regard to education (SDG No. 4). Many of these education problems stems from the scars of Banthu education as confirmed by the 1994 Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) that “Black education, in particular, suffered severe deficits in the areas of Science, Mathematics, Technology, Arts and Culture” Therefore there is a major need for interventions that support formal as well as informal education in STEMI. In TIMSS 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2011 South Africa was one of the lowest scoring countries. For the Annual National Assessment (ANA) which is conducted by the Department of Basic Education with grade 7 and 9 mathematics pupils, the average mathematics mark for grade 9 learners was 11%. These problems are compounded by a high dropout rate. For every 100 South African students that enter grade 1 only 40 will reach matric, of which only 28 will pass. Of those 28 only 4 will enter university and of those 4 only 1 will graduate. Hence there is need not only to not have STEMI education intervention programmes but science inspiration programmes.

Coding is the language of the 21st century, where nearly everything in modern society is driven by coding. Astronomy is no exception, where coding is used to explore the universe. Whether it is through telescopes, satellites or robots exploring planets, coding is an essential instrument of astronomy.

The Cosmic Code: First Contact is a project that aims to introduce coding within an astronomy setting to the rural communities of Zululand (and beyond!). Many of these communities have not had any first-hand experience with information technologies, such as computers. This project will serve as the first point of contact, introducing the communities to computers through coding. The programme will entail a workshop in which participants will programme miniature Raspberry Pi robots using Python coding. The workshop begins with developing some of the soft skills of computing and coding through Scratch (pictorial code). From this level the workshop will proceed into using Python coding (written code). By combining the Python coding with Raspberry Pi robots, it allows the participants to see tangible applications of the code they write. This has a direct link to how astronomy uses coding to control planetary exploring robots or orbiting satellites. The programme will be aimed mainly at school children but will also be offered to young adults and the elderly. The Cosmic Code programme will also include a detailed workshop on career advice as to ensure the programme does not simply stop at making people aware of coding but ultimately makes coders of them! The project will engage and partner with other organisations such as Africa Code Week. The programme aims to expand the workshop to other countries such as Botswana and Zimbabwe.

“Coding is today’s language of creativity. All our children deserve a chance to become creators instead consumers of computer science.” – Maria Klawe