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It's high time we started teaching coding in African languages

Updated: Mar 31, 2022

According to linguists, Africa is home to more than 2000 different languages. This means that there are more than 2000 tribes in Africa with South Africa being home to 11 of those languages. It is estimated that more than 12 million learners in South Africa attend public schools under the Department of Education with most of those learners learning English as their first additional language.

The above point presents a bigger challenge than imagined to interconnectivity, coding and robotics. Our organisation AlgoAtWork Robotics Academy has in the past two years dedicated itself to opening up access to Technology education in the form of coding and robotics in rural areas to underprivileged communities. From the experience, it is evident that if we want to properly grow and connect Africa we have to develop and maintain software at different levels using our native languages.

There are levels of development of Software tools which we believe that our country especially the Science and Technology department should keep in mind when financing computer sciences and technology-related research in higher institutions of learning and other government agencies such as The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research:

  • Development of Coding Languages: Through our Digital Roadshows and tours to public schools, we constantly try to convey technology education through native languages (isiZulu, Sepedi, SeTswana etc). we have realised that coding languages themselves are originally written in languages that African learners struggle to grasp and recognize. Explaining words such as function, integer, boolean, etc becomes a task since these are not words often used - What is an integer in isiZulu, Sepedi or Setswana?

  • Development of Software: We need to radically address the tools to programme these new coding languages, referred to as Integrated Development Environments: One of the largest challenges faced is the difficulty of understanding development environments. We have thousands of development environments. The environments currently available do not support African languages. Learners we have taught had to scramble through words and meanings on the platform.

  • Development of Technology Education Content in African languages: As a continent, we constantly discuss the difficulties of passing on and preserving our languages. We continue to pay attention to the greater need of developing our languages and translating terms and words in medicine, biology, chemistry, economy etc so we can open up a wider participation of our people in the economy. We should not lose this chance once again to translate coding, robotics and other technological terms to our African languages.

In our discussion about interconnectivity, our debate as a country should be; do we want to discuss connectivity, participation as end-users and consumers or do we want to discuss it as possible producers and contributors. The answer to those questions, will determine what economic and technological trajectory we take and what sort of opportunities we will be able to create within future economies.

Tshega Mampshika is a Director and Co-Founder at AlgorhythmLAB and AlgoAtWork Robotics Academy


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