Nokwazi Mbhele and her journey through artificial intelligence

Left, Nokwazi Mbhele, with her mentor, Senele Goba

Addressing a packed Seme Hall, the young Nokwazi said that she and her schoolmates felt privileged to be selected to participate in the programme.  Nokwazi said she was speaking on behalf of the four schools that are the beneficiaries of the Minister’s Special Project. These schools are Asithuthuke Combined School, Jabula Combined School and Crystal Springs Primary schools, in the Umngeni Municipality, in Howick in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. The four schools benefited when Minister Dr Nzimande handed over 88 computers to them on 14 October 2021.

Nokwazi, an excellent speaker for her age, told the audience that the project started last year. Nokwazi said they had learned a lot during this time. They were taught computer programming.  She said Tuesdays had been turned into “very special days because they were days of fun and learning new things. We learned about computers and the different types of computers that we find around us.  I did not know that there are so many computers that we come across in our daily lives. I am talking about ATMs, tills at the shops, and even smartphones and tablets,” she said

A well-taught Nokwazi said that they learnt that computers have ‘brains’. “We learned that computers have features similar to humans. They have brains, much like human beings, but these ‘brains’ are called processors. Computers have input devices that send information to the ‘brain’, just like the senses that humans have. Of course, they are not human – I mean, they don’t have a sense of smell, yet, but who knows what we can invent in the future!” said Nokwazi.

Nokwazi said that they learned to code and create algorithms, which are step-by-step instructions to complete a task. “We learned how to find errors in our code and remove them. This is called debugging. We also learned how to shorten our code and make it work faster by using repeat statements and many other tricks in coding,” she said.

They also learned how to create stories using Scratch Junior, along with learning how robots work, how computers drive a lot of things that people use every day, and how those things work.

Still, on robots, Nokwazi said they were taught about inventions and innovation, and how to build robotic models that help people understand how things work and “models of systems that can solve problems in the world”.  They built models that ranged from parking lot systems, railway crossing systems, obstacle-avoiding cars, can-picking robots, robotic arms, automatic doors and many more, she said. They were also taught about Artificial Intelligence and how it is used to teach robots new things about the environments they are used in.

“We taught a robot that can clean the ocean, how to identify sea creatures and separate them from litter. By doing that, the robot can then remove litter from our oceans, dams and rivers,” Nokwazi said.

The young Nokwazi refuted that technology was going to take away people’s jobs. “I think with programmes like these, we are getting prepared for jobs of the future,” she said.