Home News Rise in popularity of robotics a big win for NC

Rise in popularity of robotics a big win for NC

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With 23 teams from the Northern Cape competing in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) provincial robotics competition, which was hosted in Carnarvon this past weekend, the surge in popularity in the sport is a big win for education

Teams focus as they compete in the provincial robotics competition. Picture: Soraya Crowie

WITH 23 teams from the Northern Cape competing in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) provincial robotics competition, which was hosted in Carnarvon this past weekend, the surge in popularity in the sport is a big win for education

According to Dr Patricia Gouws, a psychologist of science engineering and the technology director at the Unisa Science Engagement Centre, the past five years have seen a growing excitement about science and technology among learners in the Province.

“We are half a decade since the introduction of robotics in Carnarvon and teams from this town have over the years even competed internationally,” Gouws said.

This year’s FIRST provincial robotics competition took place under the theme ‘Masterpiece’ and focused on learners demonstrating their hobby through the use of science and technology as well as art.

Gouws said they wanted learners to artistically and skilfully demonstrate their different strengths through the use of technology and science.

“It is a very wide theme and there is no wrong answer. We were looking for innovation from the learners,” said Gouws.

“The learners had to prepare a five-minute presentation to the panel of judges. That presentation formed part of the innovation judging section. Then they had to design and programme a robot.

“Of the 60 missions, they had to strategically choose which mission their robot had to do. Each team only had 150 seconds to complete that task. There was a practice round just to calm the nerves, then it was crunch time. Each team gets three attempts and we take the top score of those attempts.

“The third part of the competition was that they had to work as a team. The entirety of the competition is about collaboration, teamwork, communication, innovation, imagination, critical thinking and problem-solving within the team. That all formed part of the judging.”

Gouws said that although the competition has grown in popularity over the years, much still needs to be done to promote robotics in schools.

“We had teams from Brandvlei, Williston, Carnarvon and teams from Kimberley, from Sol Plaatje University. We are looking at plans to hopefully next year host an event at Sol Plaatje University as well as an event in Carnarvon.

“We need to reach more learners. It is unacceptable that we have another bunch of Grade 12 learners who are leaving school with very few digital skills. We need to prepare our learners so they can thrive in their future.

“Hopefully next year we will be having teams from Grades 1, 2 and 3 and they will be programming as well as building robots too.”

She added that the progress shown by the learners at the competition is proof that children in the Province have the skills and knowledge to compete against opponents from across the world.

“We have had two teams from the Northern Cape representing South Africa proudly internationally and it is inspiring to work with these learners. We do not have to stand back. I got very good feedback about South African teams.

“Carnarvon High School has sent teams internationally twice already. They have competed in the international competition in Uruguay and the international competition in Morocco.

“In this (provincial) competition we do acknowledge each team member with a medal for participation. It is important to acknowledge the participation as it takes courage to show up and partake in this competition. The teams may look brave, but it takes so much courage to compete in these competitions.

“The top six winners will compete in the national competition at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Johannesburg in December.”

Gouws said the southern part of the continent will in the near future gather in South Africa for the Southern Africa championships.

“We just won the bid for the Southern Africa Open Championships in 2025. We got the bid and we are now working on the logistics and finding sponsorship for the event.

“It will be wonderful if we could have teams from the Northern Cape at the Southern Africa Open Championships,” Gouws said with a smile.

Dr Patricia Gouws cheering on the teams as they compete in the provincial robotics competition in Carnarvon. Picture: Soraya Crowie
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