March 21, 2024

Weaving Together Mathematics, Programming, and African Heritage

In March 2024, the Siyakhula Festival, commemorating the 20th anniversary of AIMS, brilliantly showcased a unique amalgamation of cultural heritage and cutting-edge science through its innovative workshops and collaborative efforts. The festival, aptly named “We are growing,” lived up to its moniker by fostering growth in knowledge and community engagement.

A standout feature in the lead-up to the main event was the “TurtleStitch: Bringing Programming and Maths to the Real World” workshop on 16 March. This pre-festival initiative offered pupils from Masibambane High School a rare opportunity to delve into computer science by crafting African designs with code. TurtleStitch, based on the blocks-based environment of Snap!, enabled these young minds to explore fundamental programming concepts while linking them to traditional African handicrafts. The result was a striking display of digitally embroidered artworks that bridged the gap between the mathematical and the cultural, perfectly embodying the festival’s theme of innovation and heritage.

This workshop was part of a broader initiative led by researchers from SAP and UC Berkeley, aiming to democratise access to programming through open-source languages that are both engaging and intellectually stimulating. SAP’s commitment to enhancing digital literacy among African youth underscores the pivotal role of technology in empowering the next generation of innovators.

Jadga Huegle from SAP, the facilitator deeply involved in the orchestration and success of the event, reflected on the experience: “Seeing the light in the students’ eyes as they realised they could transform their code into tangible pieces of art was profoundly moving. It was a vivid reminder that when we blend science with our cultural roots, the possibilities are boundless.”

The partnership with AIMSSEC, the schools outreach branch of AIMS, facilitated a rich exchange of ideas and skills, highlighting the institute’s commitment to advancing mathematical sciences across Africa.

The festival’s collaboration with AIMS further expanded the workshop’s impact, inviting participants from the Saturday session back for a special event on Thursday morning, Human Rights Day, reinforcing the connection between traditional learning and modern technology. Dr Sinobia Kenny initiated the session with a moving speech that addressed the daily struggles faced by township schools’ students and teachers. Sibulele Magini, Head of Molo Mhlaba Schools, shared the inspirational principles guiding their institutions. Notably, two learners from Masibambane who had participated in the Saturday workshop delivered their own heartfelt speech, evoking an emotional response from the audience. The highlight was the performance by girls from Molo Mhlaba School, who presented a decolonised version of the South African national anthem and a traditional political song, leaving an indelible mark on all present. Following this powerful session, an impromptu workshop was conducted for the Molo Mhlaba girls, with assistance from Masibambane learners. This experience, culminating in the girls receiving embroidered bags featuring designs from the Saturday workshop, underscored the festival’s deep-rooted commitment to fostering mutual understanding, recognition, and the integration of cultural heritage with technological innovation.

The success of the TurtleStitch workshop and the AIMS collaboration during the Siyakhula Festival highlights the transformative power of combining education, technology, and cultural awareness. It stands as a testament to the festival’s role in nurturing a digitally proficient generation that is deeply rooted in its heritage, poised to contribute meaningfully to the ongoing digital revolution and beyond.

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