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Surprise SA medalist in World Robot Olympiad

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Meridian Cosmo City (MCC), a school in a mixed housing suburb north of JHB, was the winner of a silver medal in the Senior High School open category at the World Robot Olympiad (WRO) national finals held in Pretoria this month.

MCC is managed by JSE-listed independent education provider Curro Holdings, which saw sister school Curro Grantleigh take a gold medal in the Senior High School regular category. Grantleigh will be travelling to New Delhi, India, in November to compete in the WRO world finals, along with

The WRO is a non-profit organisation founded in 2004, comprising more than 50 member countries, and involving more than 20 000 teams competing in the challenges each year. The 2016 “Rap the Scrap” theme is focused on recycling, which calls for contestants to build robots that can reduce, manage, and recycle waste. Participants built their robots using Lego components.

The Natal-based Curro Grantleigh team comprises Bonga Gumbi and Dominique Spies, who had to make a robot that picks up sorted waste into recycling containers at a recycling plant. The robot had two minutes to complete the challenge and the team had to ensure the robot did not damage the recycling containers.

“I had a team that went to Qatar last year. This year I have a senior team qualifying for the world finals in Dehli,” said Alan Lewis, a robotics teacher at Curro Grantleigh.

Spies’ 15 year old grade 9 teammate, Gumbi, said one of the challenges they faced at the WRO was the surface of the mats on which the robot was operating – it was were different to the ones from school.

“We changed the program a bit and we succeeded,” said Gumbi.

Meridian Cosmo City participated for the first time in the WRO. The team, made up of grade 6 learners Tshimologo Mafokosho and Rethabile Moeketsi, built a robot called “Mrs Kling”, designed to clean littered caves. As some of the cave areas are too tight and inaccessible for humans, Mrs Kling has been built to collect litter and rubble in spaces that cannot accommodate humans.

“I am very happy with the achievement. This is just the best moment so far,” said Mafokosho, while Moeketsi insisted it wouldn’t end there: “Next year we will continue.”

The two also had the recent privilege of testing their robot at the Rising Star cave system where human ancestor Homo Naledi was discovered. Mafokosho and Moeketsi’s project was judged second to an electronic bin designed by Greenside Primary School. Greesnide also won the Junior Primary open category.

Parklands was the big winner, taking the gold medal in the Primary School regular category and the Senior High School open category. Redhill earned a silver medal in both the Junior High School and Senior High School regular categories.

Meridian Cosmo City Primary School operational head Swarts Sibanyoni said his school would have sent more than just one team to compete in the World Robot Olympiad if it had more robotics components.

Tony Williams, Curro’s project manager of IT and Robotics, said robotics had been taught as a subject from Grades R to 6 at Curro schools since 2011. It has led to annual Robotics Competitions which encourage Curro learners to explore the world of coding in a fun and rewarding way, and in a manner that provides an interactive learning platform and creates excitement in the classroom.

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Small South African town goes smartphone-only

Vodacom partners with farming business to upgrade all residents of Wakkerstroom from 2G devices to smartphones

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All residents of the small town of Wakkerstroom, which straddles Mpumalanga and kwaZulu-Natal provinces, have had their 2G feature phones upgraded to 3G devices.

The initiative is a result of Vodacom partnering with BPG Langfontein, a farming business that employs the majority of the people living in Wakkerstroom. It is now the first smartphone-only town in South Africa. This is a model the network provider says it hopes to replicate across the country as part of its mission to connect people who live in deep rural areas and are still dependent on 2G networks.

Wakkerstroom, is the second oldest town in Mpumalanga province, on the KwaZulu-Natal border, 27 km east of Volksrust and 56 km south-east of Amersfoort.  

“There are growing expectations for big corporates the size of Vodacom to serve a social purpose, and for us to use our resources and core capabilities to make a significant contribution in transforming the lives of ordinary people,” says Zakhele Jiyane, Managing Executive for Vodacom Mpumalanga. “We are helping to remove communication barriers, so that citizens in the area can be part of the digital revolution and reap the associated benefits. By moving the more than 1400 farm workers from 2G to 3G devices, this will also free much needed spectrum and this spectrum can be re-farmed to provide for faster networks such as 3G and 4G.

“Crucially, the move opens a new world of connectivity for farm workers in Wakkerstroom. As a result, most people in the area will now be able to use the Vodacom network to connect on the net and access online government services, eHealth services such as Mum&Baby and eCommerce. Learners can now surf the internet for the first time and access Vodacom’s eSchool free of charge and those who are actively looking for jobs can start using their smartphones and tablets to apply for jobs over the internet on Vodacom’s zero-rated career sites. This will be key for driving growth to the benefit of people living in this area.”

Vodacom has already deployed 4G base stations in Wakkestroom as part of this initiative.

For the next phase of this project, says Vodacom, it is going to educate the farm workers about data and the benefits of the Internet. Vodacom will also look at various ways in which it can help empower members of this community in areas of education, gender-based violence and health.

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10 more African countries join Facebook fact-checking

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Facebook today announced the expansion of its Third-Party Fact-Checking programme to 10 additional African countries, which now join  Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon and Senegal in the project,

In partnership with Agence France-Presse (AFP), the France 24 Observers, Pesa Check and Dubawa, this programme forms part of its work in helping assess the accuracy and quality of news people find on Facebook, whilst reducing the spread of misinformation on its platform.

Working with a network of fact-checking organizations, certified by the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network, third-party fact-checking will now be available in Ethiopia, Zambia, Somalia and Burkina Faso through AFP, Uganda and Tanzania through both Pesa Check and AFP, Democratic Republic of Congo and Cote d’Ivoire through the France 24 Observers and AFP, Guinea Conakry through the France 24 Observers, and Ghana through Dubawa.

Feedback from the Facebook community is one of many signals Facebook uses to raise potentially false stories to fact-checkers for review. Local articles will be fact-checked alongside the verification of photos and videos. If one of our fact-checking partners identifies a story as false, Facebook will show it lower in News Feed, significantly reducing its distribution.

Kojo Boakye, Facebook Head of Public Policy, Africa, said: “The expansion of third-party fact-checking to now cover 15 countries in a little over a year shows firsthand our commitment and dedication to the continent, alongside our recent local language expansion as part of this programme. Taking steps to help tackle false news on Facebook is a responsibility we take seriously, we know misinformation is a problem, and these are important steps in continuing to address this issue. We know that third-party fact-checking alone is not the solution, it is one of many initiatives and programmes we are investing in to help to improve the quality of information people see on Facebook. While we’ve made great progress, we will keep investing to ensure Facebook remains a place for all ideas, but not for the spread of false news.”

When third-party fact-checkers fact-check a news story, Facebook will show these in Related Articles immediately below the story in News Feed. Page Admins and people on Facebook will also receive notifications if they try to share a story or have shared one in the past that’s been determined to be false, empowering people to decide for themselves what to read, trust, and share.

Providing fact-checking in English and French across eight countries, Phil Chetwynd, AFP Global News Director said: “AFP is delighted to be expanding its fact-checking project with Facebook. We are known for the high quality of our journalism from across Africa and we will be leveraging our unparalleled network of bureaus and journalists on the continent to combat misinformation.”

Eric Mugendi, Managing Editor from Pesa Check who will provide fact-checking services in Swahili and English added: “Social networks like Facebook haven’t just changed how Africans consume the news. Social media is often the primary access to digital content or the ‘Internet’ for many Africans. They shape our perceptions of the world, our public discourse, and how we interact with public figures. This project helps us dramatically expand our fact-checking to debunk claims that could otherwise cause real-world harm. The project helps us respond more quickly and directly. We’re seeing real positive results in our interactions with both publishers and the public itself. The project also helps our fact-checks reach a far larger audience than we would otherwise. This has helped us better understand the information vacuum and other viral dynamics that drive the spread of false information in Africa. Our growing impact is a small but tangible contribution to better informed societies in Africa.”

Caroline Anipah, Programme Officer, Dubawa (Ghana) said: “Dubawa is excited to be in Ghana where the misinformation and disinformation have become widespread as a result of technological advancement and increasing internet penetration. Dubawa intends to raise the quality of information available to the public with the ultimate aim of curbing the spread of misinformation and disinformation and promoting good governance and accountability.”

Derek Thomson, editor-in-chief of the France 24 Observers, said: “Our African users are constantly sending us questionable images and messages they’ve received via social media, asking us ‘Is this true? Can you check it?’ It’s our responsibility as fact-checking journalists to verify the information that’s circulating, and get the truth back out there. Participating in the Facebook programme helps ensure that our fact-checks are reaching the people who shared the false news in the first place.”

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