A digital hub established by the MiDO Foundation at an under-resourced Western Cape high school in October last year, is being used as a springboard for learners to become digitally skilled for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

One of the foundation’s most recent collaborations involves Entersekt, a global leader in device identity and customer authentication software, and Mindjoy, an edtech start-up that’s for kids. Through this partnership, 60 learners at Lückhoff High School have been given a unique opportunity to spend nine months acquiring essential coding and programming language skills (Python, HTML, and CSS) through small group coding projects. These skills have become crucial to many jobs as the world finds itself in the 4IR.

The pilot training programme, which will run until December this year, is funded by Entersekt, and run by Mindjoy. Each week learners will participate in an hour-long session in the Digital Hub where they will connect to coding training sessions via Zoom and the Mindjoy platform. The sessions will be facilitated by a Mindjoy coach, who could be based anywhere in South Africa. Mindjoy will also track the skills and progress of each learner and once they have completed a track, learners will earn a Mindjoy Coding Certificate.

Some of the learners that are already benefiting from the programme include Tasneem Benjamin, Kodi Calvert and Cailey van der Merwe who are all in Grade 10.

According to Tasneem, she had no idea what coding was when she decided to join the programme.

“It has actually been great learning how to code and doing group learning with other learners.”

“When I was busy with project eight, I had to figure out how to use what I had learnt to go from one quadrant to another and create shapes that I can move from one place to another place. It was difficult because I didn’t know what was going on and why things weren’t moving, but it was so exciting when I finally figured it out and could celebrate that achievement with others as well as the coach, who offers us support and is always cheering us on.”

For Kodi, coding was something she had heard about in movies and had seen people speaking about on social media.

“I’ve always heard about it, but to be able to do it in real life, that is a totally different experience. You are learning how to use a [language] that is complicated, and learning it step by step so that you can build up your skills bit by bit. In my first project I already learnt how to code a colourful line,” says an excited Kodi.

The training has opened her eyes to how she can apply the skills she is learning in future as well as the careers that learners can follow.

“It’s thrilling to learn these new things.”

“I think it would be great if we could code a specific programme that other learners can build on. Who knows, maybe one day we can start a company by using the skills we have learnt. That would be the bigger plan,” she adds.

Like Tasneem, Cailey has enjoyed the experience of self-learning and figuring out problems on her own with the support of a coach.

“I am learning a new skill that will help me access more opportunities and the digital skills I am learning I can also use in my school subjects,” says Cailey.

She believes that if more learners were able to do the programme in future that there would be an increase in youth interested in doing coding and programming after school.

“I think the further one goes in coding and the more you learn about programming, the more you want to learn and enhance your skills to get even better at it.”

According to Daniel Solomons, Executive Director of the MiDO Foundation, the organisation “doesn’t ever want to build a hub that turns into a white elephant”.

“Technology continuously evolves and one can so easily fall behind and become irrelevant if your programmes do not keep up with technology. The collaboration with Entersekt and Mindjoy allows us to work together to achieve a common goal.”

“In order to achieve this, we follow a more hands-on approach and make sure that hub programmes are streamlined and allow young people to engage with technology continuously,” says Solomons.

Gabi Immelman, the founder and CEO of Mindjoy, explains that before starting the pilot training programme, the organisation conducted a baseline survey with learners as a measure to understand perceptions around digital skills and attitudes towards pursuing programming as a career path.

“At the end of the pilot we would like to survey students again to see if there is a shift in their understanding of programming and attitudes to career paths,” says Immelman.

“Entersekt, the MiDO Foundation and Mindjoy all believe in helping students build their competencies as digital citizens to develop essential skills for the future of work, but also to support learners in having the necessary skills to access economic opportunities.”

Arno Kemp, Vice President of Transformation and Growth at Entersekt, says that the collaboration “is an undisputed recipe for digital skills education” and “digital skills supply in South Africa”.

“Our labour market is under duress, with these skills being both scarce and in high demand. This is one of the vehicles of remedy we are proud to support and nurture, with invaluable partnerships and communities at its heart,” says Kemp.

Learners and Mindjoy trainers are supported by the foundation’s Digital Hub Coordinator, Mary-Ann van der Merwe, who is responsible for managing the training schedule for this programme and preparing the venue for use by the trainers and learners. Digital Hub Coordinators are appointed at each of the foundation’s hubs to manage the space; provide support to teachers and learners when they utilise equipment, software, and the internet. Van der Merwe also helps to present and facilitate programmes.

Van der Merwe says she has noticed a marked increase in learner curiosity since they have started to learn coding and programming.

“Learners often stay after their programme session is done, with some staying 30 minutes to one hour and 30 minutes longer,” says Van der Merwe.

Solomons says that listening to the feedback from learners, it is clear that the MiDO Foundation’s philosophy of pursuing collaborations and building partnerships, as well as the dedication of partners like Entersekt and Mindjoy to providing more South African learners with digital skills, has helped the foundation increase its impact on communities beyond what it could have imagined.

“Gone are the days of doing everything all by yourself – working together and achieving a common goal together has become the norm. Since its inception in 2018 the MiDO Foundation has believed in partnerships that are relational, meaning that good relationships form the basis of good collaboration and collective success not only for those organisations involved, but specifically for our beneficiaries,” says Solomons.

The MiDO Foundation is a non-profit organisation focused on fostering digital citizenship through digital literacy and creating pathways out of poverty for its beneficiaries through partnerships and collaboration.

Photo: Grade 10 learners (from the left) Tasneem Benjamin, Kodi Calvert and Cailey van der Merwe enjoy practising their coding and programming skills in the Lückhoff High School Digital Hub. With them is Mary-Ann van der Merwe, the Digital Hub Coordinator. (Lynne Rippenaar-Moses)