One of St John’s College’s 2017 top learners, Matthew Whyte, scored nine (9) distinctions, making it into the top 1% of Mathematics, Science and Information Technology learners in South Africa. Matthew credits part of his academic success to his long term participation in a University of Johannesburg (UJ) science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programme called the RobotScience Project.
The RobotScience Project provides learners and students with the opportunity to build robots at the University of Johannesburg’s TechnoLab, nurturing engineering, innovation and entrepreneurship skills in disadvantaged learners.
Matthew has served over the past few years as a volunteer at TechnoLab, assisting disadvantaged teenagers from underprivileged communities in acquiring programming skills and learning more about engineering by assisting them to build a robot. The RobotScience Project at TechnoLab gives teenagers the opportunity to participate in the AfrikaBOT competition which requires a desktop scale robot to solve a maze challenge.
In 2012 when he was in Grade 7 Matthew built the AfrikaBOT 1 and wrote his first ever lines of programming code. Says Matthew: “I was part of a team that placed 4th in the Open Category at the World Robotics Olympiad in 2014. It would not have been possible if not for attending training presented by the RobotScience Project.”
The RobotScience Project was established in 2008 by Michael Ettershank on his kitchen table as he was concerned about the lack of STEM education opportunities for SA teenagers. The RobotScience Project is now housed in UJ’s TechnoLab.
The RobotScience Project created AfrikaBOT with the intention of creating an affordable competition that would be open to all South African youth, with trophies in the junior high, senior high, undergraduate and postgraduate categories. The competition was launched in 2015 and the first two events were held in October 2016 and October 2017.
Matthew Whyte made contact again with the RobotScience Project in 2015 and served as a volunteer at UJ TechnoLab on Saturday mornings through 2016 and 2017, helping Coach Michael prepare learners to participate in the AfrikaBOT competition which takes place each year at Zwartkops International Raceway on the same weekend as Shell Eco-marathon Africa. The weekend of 22 October 2017 at Zwartkops International Raceway was a mini STEM festival where members of the public could visit and speak to high school students and engineering undergraduates about their fuel efficient Shell Eco-marathon vehicles, also meet township teams from Alexandra High School and Diepsloot and others participating in AfrikaBOT 2017 about their robots and their experience of the maze challenge.
Top St John’s College achiever Matthew, and other learners from the school, are encouraged to give back to society by getting involved in a variety of projects that serve underprivileged communities. The St John’s Academy was set up so teachers and learners could get involved in boosting maths and science marks among disadvantaged youth from under-resourced schools.
Says Matthew: “In 2018 I will be teaching programming courses to the underprivileged learners from our partner high schools at St John’s Academy.”
In 2016 and 2017 St Johns College sponsored learners from an inner city high school who are participants in the St Johns Maths Tutoring Programme, presented by St Johns Academy, to attend robotics classes at TechnoLab on Saturday mornings. The learners from Barnato Park with the support of St Johns College were able to participate in the AfrikaBOT competition and learn more about engineering careers.
In 2018 Matthew will be completing his A Levels at St Johns and will continue volunteering at UJ TechnoLab on Saturday mornings. He hopes to study Engineering and Information Technology at UJ in 2019.
Says Coach Michael: “Imagine for a moment, if every disadvantaged youth in South Africa got the opportunity to build and program their own robot and participate in UJ’s AfrikaBOT competition, what a difference we could make!”
UJ encourages students to be part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution by sharing ideas and creating, by sharing thoughts, ideas, questions and projects around specific topics of interest at its new Makerspace at the Doornfontein Campus. The space encourages entrepreneurship by allowing students to work across different disciplines ranging from science, technology, engineering, health sciences, hobbies, crafts and prototype their ideas and inventions.