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School for under-resourced communities produces robotics stars

The World Robotics Olympiad, with the theme “My Robot My Friend” saw startling results in the Western Cape finals

Two robotics teams from a Cape Town school for children from under-resourced communities have won through to South Africa’s national World Robotics Olympiad (WRO) finals.

A record 89 teams and 227 students competed in the WRO Western Cape regional competition in Cape Town, hosted by non-profit school Christel House South Africa, based in the suburb of Ottery.

Christel House offers no-fee scholarships to students from some of the most under-resourced communities in Cape Town and helps to transform their lives through a character-based and career-focused education model. Technology forms the bedrock of the school’s curriculum, with programmes like coding and robotics growing from strength to strength each year.

Two teams from the school won through to the national finals in Gauteng, where winners of each category stood a chance to represent South Africa at the WRO international event in Dortmund, Germany, in November 2022.

First held in 2004, the World Robot Olympiad takes place across 90 countries and brings together young people from all over the world to develop their creativity and problem-solving skills through challenging educational robotics competitions.

The official WRO theme for 2022 is “My Robot My Friend” and focuses on how the combination of robotics and artificial intelligence can improve robot-human interaction by making it safer and more user-friendly. The competition tasks teams to program their robot to do certain tasks while navigating through pre-determined courses. The team that completes the course the quickest and most accurately scores the highest. Teams participate across various skill levels in several categories. This year, the Robo Sports category included doubles tennis for the first time.

Christel House and the WRO Western Cape committee also hosted a special robotics workshop, which introduced 50 students from under-resourced areas to the world of robotics and coding. The workshop was facilitated with the help of WRO Olympiad winning teams, who guided them in coding and building their own robots for the first time.

Robotics, coding and other ICT programmes form a key part of Christel House SA’s intervention to equip students for the world of work and ensure that they find gainful employment. In line with global technology trends, the school acknowledges that coding will become a basic literacy requirement in the digital age and that understanding the fundamentals of technology will be essential to securing a job in the future.

Funding for robotics equipment, training and competition fees remain a significant barrier for many underprivileged schools across South Africa. With the support of Dell Technologies in South Africa, Christel House SA is committed to widening the impact of its programmes to help more young people bridge the digital divide.

Doug Woolley, general manager of Dell Technologies South Africa, says: “Dell is a leading innovator in fields such as artificial intelligence, and we believe that Christel House’s commitment to equipping South Africa’s youth with the most sought-after skills in the world today plays an essential contributing role in the future of our country.”

Cedric Esterhuizen, WRO Western Cape vice chair and head of the robotics department at Christel House, says: “Through this outreach programme, we managed to expose students to robotics who would otherwise not have had the opportunity. It was tremendous to see all the interaction and the smiles on the students’ faces.

“Robotics offers an opportunity to follow a career path that students haven’t considered before and allows them to make a contribution to an ever-changing technological world.”

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