Empowering Young Minds: How Nokuphila’s IT Laboratory Engages and Educates

Empowering Young Minds: How Nokuphila’s IT Laboratory Engages and Educates

The International Day for Universal Access to Information, celebrated on September 28th, serves as a great reminder of a fundamental human right, that we all have access to information. In the current technology age, information is the most valuable currency and is available in many different formats.

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) declared the 28th of September as the International Day for Universal Access to Information back in 2015. However, what does this mean to us locally?

Invaluable learning aids

In South Africa, we have a human right to education and this hard-fought battle goes a long way in trying to bridge the inequities in our society, particularly amongst those who are previously disadvantaged.

When we reflect on the importance of providing everyone with access to knowledge and technology, particularly in the context of education, it becomes even clearer how significant Nokuphila’s revolutionary IT Lab (Information Technology Laboratory) is.

Our school is located in Thembisa and provides quality Christian education for primary school learners. Our aim is to change lives through our commitment to uplifting individuals and local communities through education.

The head of ICT and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), Matshoene Tladi, believes that teaching IT (Information Technology) skills and upskilling learners in technology from a young age should not merely be considered a side-effect of modern education. Teacher Tladi believes that we should view this as a great way to enhance learning, not only through the use of educational apps, but by recognising how these skills help learners to hone their critical thinking and research capabilities. Ultimately, teaching IT skills better prepares our students for the workplace environment by teaching them the appropriate expertise needed in the modern workplace.

Teaching since 2018, Teacher Tladi, discovered his passion for teaching through his involvement with the Christ Church Sunday School, in Midrand. He initially qualified as an EMS teacher (Economics and Management Sciences), but has been studying whilst working, completing short courses in IT and Robotics, and now teaches Mathematics and IT to the learners.

Age appropriate use of technology is key

Teacher Tladi believes that our schools’ use of technology as a teaching aid is carefully considered, and balances giving our learners exposure whilst limiting the times and tools that are appropriate for them.

He believes in introducing them to educational software and apps that serve to further improve their learning experience. Once our school has reviewed what software we will be using in lessons, we then determine the appropriate time-limits for those particular programmes.

From Grades 000 – 3, the learners have access to the IT Lab for about 30-45 minutes per week, where we  show them how to turn a computer on and off, and use basic applications such as Paint and Microsoft Word.

From Grade 4 onwards, the learning evolves to include more advanced programmes such as Scratch, which is a free coding programme designed for children that allows them to create stories and games to share with their friends.

Another fun education based programme is Robomind, which provides learners with a simple programming environment with its own scripting language, designed to provide them with the chance to grasp fundamental computer science concepts through the simulated robot programming.

Visible learning benefits

Aside from the obvious benefit of having fun with computers, the skills gained through the IT Lab are essential for all areas of their learning:  problem solving, increased creativity and enhanced collaborative skills.

The goals around coding, programming and robot building all involve a level of problem solving and critical thinking. Being able to visualise mathematics and science concepts at a hands-on level increases the benefits of learning in those subjects. As the concepts are no longer abstract and can be seen applied to projects in the IT Lab, the students are able to grasp and retain the learnings of these subjects.

Something that Teacher Tladi believes is critical in the IT Lab is the ability for our learners to gain access to real-life scenarios such as flight simulations and archaeological digs, through the use of VR (Virtual Reality). These scenarios help the learners to gain an understanding of experiences or concepts they would never normally have access to, again increasing their understanding whilst enhancing the fun of learning.

Bridging the digital divide whilst protecting our youth

While the IT Lab at Nokuphila remains at the forefront of technology, sadly, this is not the case in most schools. This is precisely the reason why this is so important! Through technology we can visibly see the disparity between rural and suburban learners, and if we don’t address this widening skills gap, this issue will continue to grow and unfortunately become worse.

Through this innovation hub, Nokuphila is doing its best to address this issue with our inclusion of IT, and our emphasis on current technologies. In the digital divide Nokuphila is doing its part to ensure that our learners will be on equal footing with their peers when they leave school. 

While Teacher Tladi strongly advocates for educational aids, he believes that both educators and parents alike need to be mindful of the age limits on games and social media, and follow the guidelines which have been set out.

He advises that parents teach their children the positive uses of social media, such as business and advertising opportunities. The key is modelling a healthy relationship with gaming, social media and internet use for our children to observe and learn from.

At our school, our teachers are trained on what appropriate internet use looks like for learners, and while they are allowed access to the IT Lab for project research, they are not allowed to abuse their internet time, as the centre is access controlled with their usage monitored.

Long-term vision

This year, Nokuphila has been able to upgrade its robots and tools, and our learners are really benefiting from being able to work with moving robots – a firm favourite amongst the students.

What Teacher Tladi would ultimately love to see is the IT Lab becoming a safe place where the learners can simply unleash their imaginations to build and create, without limits. His hope is that this special place could become known as a STEM hub for the community.

What Nokuphila’s IT Lab promises is so much more than just an advanced technological space, but a haven for students to dream big whilst honing new skills and developing modern talents. Preparing today’s learners for a place in tomorrow’s workplace.