Drone, robotics technology and the African child
The continent of Africa might have missed out on many development opportunities over the course of history, due to various reasons beyond its people’s control – slavery and colonisation being chief among them – but when it comes to catching its citizens young with regards to drone and robotics technology in the modern day, it seems the continent has finally learned its lessons and is getting it right.
At long last.
Drone and robotics technology enthusiasts on the continent might be aware of the inspiring work being done by WeRobotics; establishing a family of Flying Labs across the Global South, which start-up entities have in turn been working hard to spread the knowledge of STEM and robotics and unmanned aerospace technology to young students in their localities.
For instance, last week, Zimbabwe Flying Labs launched a full drone and robotics technology training course for children aged between seven and eighteen, where the kids will learn about coding with drones, among other lessons designed to steer them towards technological innovation in their adult lives.
And it does not matter how new South Africa Flying Labs is to the Flying Labs family; the start-up is already on the ground with kids in the country; sharing all it can about the power of locally led innovation, and joining seventeen other African Flying Labs that have been at it since they launched operations in their respective countries.
If the objective of creating the Flying Labs network of robotics start-ups in the global south was to inspire third world entrepreneurs to be the proverbial change they wish to see, and get front and centre of solving the challenges they face in their respective countries; at least in the industrial, technological and economic space; then instilling the fundamental dictates of drone and robotics technology into the young callow minds of school kids today is to ensure that the trend of self-sustenance persists beyond just flying labs.
You want to plant that innovation gene into the kids while there is still time.
Besides Flying Labs, independent organisations like the Inspire Africa Group have also been in the field for some time now, working with kids on drone-based STEM education. The Cape Town, South Africa based company was recognised for their untiring work with children in this field at the inaugural Airwards, a global initiative to reward excellence in the drone industry.
Inspire Africa have been working with thousands of school children across schools in Southern Africa, imparting practical skills on how the kids could use a collection of educational Tello drones to perfect their coding super powers.
For this, they walked away with the Education and Research award “for enabling students in Africa to develop valuable core education skills and career opportunities within the industry by delivering fourth industrial revolution technology programmes and curricula to students through their Inspire STEAM digital learning portal. Their focus is growing awareness of the drone industry, demystifying the applications of UAVs and educating and upskilling future drone pilots, software developers and engineers for the career opportunities the industry offers. To date they have 52 schools across southern Africa that have implemented the programme into their curriculum.”
Said Simon Robinson, founder and CEO at Inspire Africa; “We are extremely proud an grateful to have won the Education and Research category, and I’d like to thank my team and our clients in helping us build a drone education and training company designed to support and develop the next generation of drone professionals. Having taught over 15,000 students across more than 50 schools in Southern Africa, our Inspire STEAM drone coding programme is focussed on empowering our youth to develop critical skills and career opportunities in the drone industry.”
The GFPA Emerging Tech Programme
Of course, it is inspiring, the way young people and their start-ups are trying to raise the levels of technological awareness in Africa to world class standards.
But then there is the Girls Fly Programme in Africa (GFPA) and the way they are doing it, which makes their efforts all the more special.
For the organisation’s focus is specially trained on empowering the African girl child on aerospace technology.
Did we bury the lead too deep? Because our focus today is indeed on the GFPA and their quest to make girls in Africa as familiar with aerospace technology as they are with the kitchen.
Because, in a world where historical inequalities exist, the African girl child is trodden upon by the down-trodden.
A report released last year by UNESCO’s Education For All Global Monitoring Report (GMR) and the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, showed that in sub-Saharan Africa, considerable challenges in education for girls still persisted, with gender disparities widening at each cycle of the education, leaving the poorest girls at stark disadvantage.
“In Guinea and Niger, approximately 70 percent of the poorest girls had never attended school compared with less than 20 percent of the richest boys,” the report said. “Girls continue to face the greatest challenges in accessing primary school. Of the eighteen countries with fewer than 90 girls for every 100 boys enrolled, thirteen are in sub-Saharan Africa.
“There are 16.7 million girls out of school in sub-Saharan Africa, 9.3 million of whom will never set foot in a classroom. On current trends in sub-Saharan Africa the poorest girls will achieve universal primary completion twenty years after the poorest boys.
“For secondary education, gender disparities have barely changed in since 1999, with still only around eight girls for every ten boys enrolling. In 2012, at least nineteen countries around the world had fewer than 90 girls for every 100 boys in school, fifteen of which were in sub-Saharan Africa. In the Central African Republic and Chad in 2012, half as many girls as boys were in secondary school.
“In Angola, the situation has actually worsened, from 76 girls per 100 boys in 1999 to 65 in 2012.”
It is a sad state of affairs, which the GFPA is hoping to change by introducing young girls to the amazing technology of the aerospace industry.
An offshoot of the Southern African Women in Aviation and Aerospace industry (SAWIA) – a non-profit organisation founded by Refilwe Ledwaba to represent Southern African women and girls in the aviation and aerospace industry in the SADC region – the GFPA was created as a platform to educate girls about aviation and aerospace at a grassroots level.
Yesterday, the organisation announced launching the first phase of an emerging technology programme whose ultimate goal is to reach out to high school learners and schools leavers – starting with Botswana, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa – and introduce them to drone training.
“We are excited about our emerging tech programme which we are rolling out for both high school and post-school learners,” the organisation said on Sunday. “In the last few months, we have engaged with multiple partners and advisors from drone training, data analytics and job placements.
“Our Phase One has started where we are training four of our alumni (all of them engineers, mechanical and aeronautical) who will be implementing the programme, as drone instructors and in data analytics.”
The second phase – for which recruitment will start next month – will see the newly trained instructors taking the programme into the field and working with the qualifying group of young girls on aerospace and related emerging technology.
A Sustainable Development Goals advocate, Ledwaba was equally excited by the latest project, which is just one of the many programmes the organisation and its various partners have been working to improve the status of girls in society.
“I am excited about this five-year project initiative by GFPA, which will be rolled out in South Africa, Botswana, Kenya and Ghana,” she said. “In addition to introducing drone technology, 3D printing, robotics and coding, we will also be exposing the young girls to major technology trends in the aerospace industry.
“For example, according to The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the following are some of the six major technology trends that will impact how future air cargo facilities evolve: augmented reality and wearables; robotics and automated systems; IoT and connected cargo; big data and AI; green buildings; and autonomous vehicles.”
And the ultimate goal of the GFPA – which has offices in Botswana, Cameroon, Kenya and South Africa – is to empower young women with information and networking opportunities with fellow women in the field so as to address the gender gap in the STEAM field.
They need all the support we can give them, and we hope they succeed in their noble endeavour.