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Call to unlock robotics skills

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As a school team from the Frances Baard District progressed to the national robotics competition following their success at a provincial robotics competition, a call has been made to unlock robotics skills in the district.

The Zero to Heroes team from Kimberley Technical High School has made it through to the national finals. Picture: Soraya Crowie

AS A SCHOOL team from the Frances Baard District progressed to the national robotics competition following their success at the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) provincial robotics competition, a call has been made to unlock robotics skills in the district.

The Kimberley Technical High School robotics team “Zero 2 Heroes” was not only selected as one of five teams to represent the Northern Cape at the national robotics competition, to be hosted at Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Johannesburg in December, but the team also walked away with the Engineering Excellence Award.

Another team from Kimberley Technical High School also managed to clinch the Motivate Award.

Twenty-three school teams from across the Northern Cape competed in the FIRST provincial robotics competition in Carnarvon this past weekend.

Tesla Minions, a team from Carnarvon High School, walked away with the Champion Award after they were announced as the overall winners of the competition.

Tesla Minions also scooped the Robot Game Award and along with other teams from Carnarvon High School, such as Cyber Warriors, were awarded the Teamwork Award.

The unique trophies were made from Lego, the toy building brick that the teams had to use to design and construct their robots for the competition.

The Tesla Minions team from Carnarvon High School won the overall competition and is one of five teams that will represent the Northern Cape at the national competition in Johannesburg in December. Picture: Sorata Crowie

A teacher from Kimberley Technical High School, Gerald Neels, said he was proud of all his teams for standing their ground during the nail-biting competition.

“We came with three teams, which consisted of learners from Tetlanyo High School, Kimberley Technical High School and Vuyolwethu High School. This is our second time being at this competition and our team did not feel insecure to go against the learners from Carnarvon who have been introduced to this competition years before our learners. We are looking forward to the national competition as well as attending more provincial and regional competitions in 2024,” said Neels.

He added that much still needs to be done in the Frances Baard District in order for the sport to gain momentum in schools in the capital city of the Northern Cape, unlike the schools in and around the tiny town of Carnarvon.

“We would like to urge all other schools, especially primary schools, to participate in the robotics competitions offered, seeing that the Department of Education is spending a lot of money on capacitating teachers with robotics skills,” said Neels.

“The University of South Africa (Unisa) also offers free hybrid training for teachers who might not know how to introduce the sport in their respective schools. Teachers who complete the training are even provided with start-up equipment in order to spread the passion amongst learners.

“The vital part is that teachers need to take the lead and teach their learners about robotics while also making the subject fun for the learner.”

The five teams that will be going through to the national competition in Johannesburg in December. Picture: Soraya Crowie

Neels also praised Sol Plaatje University for their assistance to the Kimberley school teams.

“We started with robotic training in 2022, but we had not participated in any competitions at that stage. It was only after we fostered a relationship with Sol Plaatje University (SPU) in Kimberley that we started taking part in competitions. We normally have training for four days at the university. The mentors at SPU assist the learners with the preparation for the competitions. The first competition we attended was in June this year and we are looking forward to more competition as we sharpen our skills.”

Neels pointed out that exposure to robotics as a subject, as well as a sport, had positively impacted his learners and their career prospects.

“Government repeatedly talks about the 4th Industrial Revolution. Robotics fits very well into this sphere. Due to robotics being a very expensive subject to introduce, we would like to urge the department to support the schools to participate in more such competitions. There is a definite better future for children who are intending to grow their skills in robotics.

“We are not saying that robotics will take over all the aspects of what humans are doing, but there will be a great field where that will happen. We, however, need assistance from the department for a school to offer robotics as a subject, which will be advantageous.

“The cost implications for learners actively getting involved and preparing for such competitions must be carried by the department as the schools do not have the budgets to buy the tools and resources for the sport.

“These competitions not only develop the technical skills of the learners but also assist them in analytical as well as critical thinking. Part of the competition criteria entailed that each group must do a presentation on how the project was put together. The competition was not only focused on the programming and coding of the robot. It also challenged the learners on different levels.

“It was mentally taxing, as evidenced by the times when the robot was not doing what it was programmed to do and many learners broke down in tears. However, all the learners after that experience dusted themselves off and returned to the drawing board. They then not only learn to programme and build a better-equipped robot but also showcase their own personal resilience,” said Neels.

A team in action during the provincial robotics competition in Carnarvon. Picture: Soraya Crowie

One of the parents whose child participated in the competition urged other parents to be actively involved in their children’s extramural activities.

“This competition is the same as a sports competition. Our children put in the preparation and are just as nervous as children who are on the sports field. This competition is also just as physically as well as mentally exhausting as any sports code.

“As a parent, one truly gets to see your child’s development and maturity once you see them competing against their peers. This competition challenges them to think critically and also teaches them discipline as well as patience.

“It is also amazing to see how youngsters can make something that was just a block of plastic move,” said the parent with a smile.

“Parents who do have children in such programmes should really make an effort to see what skills their children possess and cheer them on, the same way other parents cheer their children on next to the sports field.

“We need to show our children that we are interested in the things they do after school hours. If your child is occupied with something productive after school, do your bit as a parent to encourage them or even just watch and see what they do. That would not only encourage your child but can also grow the bond between parent and child.”

Kimberley Technical High School teacher Gerald Neels (black shirt) is joined by one of the parents who supported his child during the provincial robotics competition hosted in Carnarvon. Picture: Soraya Crowie

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