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Tech Innovator Enables Educators Close Digital Gap in Africa

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Vusi Melane
Vusi Melane
Staff Writer

Tangible Africa, a tech innovator based in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, is bridging Africa’s digital divide. Funded and supported by the world’s largest cloud services provider, Amazon Web Services– AWS, Tangible Africa has developed innovative gaming platforms to equip children with coding skills. However, the impact of their work extends beyond just learners. They also empower educators across the continent with bespoke training programs and facilitation support, all funded and supported by AWS.

Innovation


It all started in Gqeberha, South Africa, when 21-year-old student Byron Batteson developed the TANKS app for his Honours project in 2017. Professor Jean Greyling, Head of the Computing Sciences Department at Mandela University, expanded the concept into a fully-fledged initiative by partnering with Leva Foundation. Byron now works as a software developer for Amazon in Cape Town, while Prof. Greyling continues to mentor students and oversee Tangible Africa’s growth through Leva Foundation. However, Byron has since relocated to the AWS offices in Dublin.

Since its inception, the organization has made a significant impact on thousands of children and teachers across countries such as Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, and even Ireland.

Tangible Africa’s flagship initiative, the RANGERS smartphone app, gamifies coding education, making it accessible even in regions lacking computers, internet access, or electricity. Supported by AWS, the app operates offline, enabling learners from underserved communities to grasp coding fundamentals while enjoying themselves. RANGERS utilizes Android, the predominant mobile operating system in Africa, to deliver coding education to thousands of students. But what about the teachers?

Digital skills gap in Africa

Professor Greyling highlights the alarming digital skills gap in Africa. According to a 2023 World Bank report, only 50 percent of countries in Africa include computer skills in their school curriculum, compared to 85 percent globally.

“While many children in Africa are growing into a tech-driven future through initiatives like Tangible Africa, the impact should extend to teachers as well. After all, these are the heroes responsible for sparking to life a passion for tech at a grassroots level.” he said

While more countries are adopting coding curricula, Greyling emphasizes that it’s insufficient for the millions of adults who are already out of school, particularly the educators tasked with imparting this new knowledge to learners.

“If teachers lack the necessary knowledge to teach effectively, then how can we ever succeed? Through gamified tech learning platforms, we’re not only helping them inspire their students, but we must remember that we’re also unlocking a world of technology for teachers to explore in their own journeys to success.” he said

He suggests that this opens educators’ eyes to the vast opportunities awaiting them, equipping them with coding skills to pursue careers they never imagined possible.

No change of career but empowerment

Greyling emphasizes that Tangible Africa’s goal is not to encourage teachers to change their careers, “What we really want are teachers who completely understand the subject matter and facilitate digital growth within the next generation of industry leaders. If they discover a new career opportunity in the process, more power to them.”

AWS’s support has been instrumental in scaling Tangible Africa’s impact according to Greyling. Education Equity Lead at AWS, Aanya Niaz says “We’re so proud to be associated with initiatives like Tangible Africa. This is so much more than just a funding; it is about driving a shared mission to elevate the continent by opening the door to a future driven and dominated by digital growth.”

Niaz mentions that the impactful work carried out by Tangible Africa aligns perfectly with other initiatives supported by the AWS Social Responsibility and Impact team.

“Our aim is always to improve the livelihoods of local communities and use the power of the cloud to propel them into a digital future,” says Niaz. “Through this, we partner with nonprofits and community organisations like Tangible Africa, and use our resources, people, and passion for innovation to make a sustainable and lasting impact.” she adds
CEO for Leva Foundation, Ryan le Roux, said the Tangible Africa story has become an amazing journey of a “South African innovation developed to close the digital divide in Africa, now being eagerly used by teachers in developed countries as well.”

 

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