From jiggy bots to satellites for South African girls

17 June 2014

A group of about 20 girls from various schools in Cape Town spent this year’s Youth Day, on 16 June, building jiggy bots – tiny robots whose movements can be controlled.

They were taking part in the first of a series of workshops that have been set up as an introduction to the world of electronics. The workshops will culminate in a week-long session to construct Africa’s first private satellite. The satellite will be sent to the Mojave Desert in California for launch in early 2016.

The project is run by the Meta Economic Development Organisation (Medo), which hopes to build up girls’ technical skills before they matriculate. The company was motivated to launch the programme, focused on science, technology, engineering and maths, by the shortage of technical skills in the country.

“The reality is, half the young women in this room, when they matriculate, are not going to have formal jobs,” Medo chief executive Judi Sandrock told The Daily Maverick. “We have to start a lot earlier.”

Science and technology is for girls too

Sandrock said that in 2014, only 7.5% of South Africa’s matric students passed maths with 60% and over as their overall mark for the subject. For physical science, the figure was even lower. This could lead to a big problem.

Asked whether science was only for boys, participants responded in the negative. “Jeez, that’s not true,” said Grade 12 student Ovaya Mandlakhe, who goes to Matthew Goniwe Memorial High School in Khayelitsha. “At my school, girls are better [at science] than boys.”

After matriculating, Ovaya would like to study medicine and become a doctor.

“Anyone can do anything! There’s no such thing that boys are better than girls,” said Imaan Shaik of South Peninsula High, in Diep River.

It’s alive

Building the robots fuelled the girls’ thirst for knowledge. “It’s amazing to see how all these bits come together to create something so technical and amazing,” said Siddiqah Latief of Pelican Park High School, near Zeekoevlei. She said she had started to love science and would like to build a career in the field.

“I never thought building things could be this interesting,” said Nina-Rose Clarke, from Pinelands High School in Pinelands. “I am loving this experience. It’s so exciting to be exposed to more than just drawing and studying ideas. Constructing stuff is so much better.”

A race to cap the day

A race of jiggy bots ended the workshop. Some moved in a straight line, while others staggered around. But in the end, Ovaya’s bot, named “Junior”, was victorious. “It was a shock it was so fast,” she said.

Sources: News24Wire and The Daily Maverick