SARAO welcomes back the Northern Cape schools Robotics team

SARAO has welcomed back its Carnarvon High School Robotics team from competing on the international stage in Marrakech, Morocco.

The Carnarvon High School robotics team, known as the Toxic Legos, consists of Cadi Jann, Almay van Wyk, Revan de Wee, Winetro Lottering, Azalia Olivier, Shamira Slaverse and Tylor Mouers. The learners are all in Grades 9 and 10. They, together with Chantel Mabaleng and Odwa Magabuko from the SARAO Schools Programme, left for Morocco on 15 May 2023 to compete in the FIRST LEGO league International Open Competition in Marrakech, and returned on 26 May 2023 from their adventure. Upon their return the learners were taken for a few days’ stopover in Dubai to experience LegoLand and the advanced technology being used in the country.

“It was such a wonderful experience for all the learners as they were all first-time flyers. We flew from Johannesburg via Dubai and Lisbon to Marrakech and stayed at the Zalagh Kasbah Hotel and Spa, and on our way back at the Asiana Grand Hotel in Dubai. The learners were astonished at the foreign cultures, but they adapted very fast,” says Mabaleng.

The SARAO Robotics team at the FIRST LEGO International Open held in Marrakech, Morocco, with their educators at Carnarvon High School, Wayne van Staden and Jeanine Mathison, who are also the team’s robotics coaches at the school.

The robotics competition, which ran from 18 to 21 May 2023, was hosted under the auspices of the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science & Technology (FIRST) LEGO League. The SARAO Robotics team was one of 66 FIRST LEGO League teams from 50 countries. The team secured 33rd place in the final robot competition. The team was also accompanied by Carnarvon High School educators Wayne van Staden and Jeanine Mathison, the team’s robotics coaches at the school.

“The competition was very tough, but I believe that it was an eye-opening experience. We experienced an environment and culture that was totally new and it was wonderful to see the cultural attire of all the different teams during the friendship evening and to hear all the different languages,” says Mabaleng.

“The FIRST LEGO League provided an exciting and educational experience that the team will always cherish. The opportunity to meet and interact with like-minded students and coaches from around the world was also inspiring,” says Magabuko. He elaborates further: “Working as a team to design, build, and program their robot was both challenging and rewarding. The competition not only tested their technical skills but also encouraged them to think critically and come up with innovative solutions to real-world problems. The entire process, from researching the theme of the year to presenting their project, was incredibly engaging and helped them develop valuable teamwork and communication skills.”

The Robotics Schools Programme, also known as the LEGO Schools Programme, is managed by the SARAO Human Capacity Development department. The programme started in 2016 in order to develop and inspire an interest in science, technology, and mathematics (STEM) skills in the schools around the development of the MeerKAT radio telescope, a precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The Robotics Schools Programme introduces STEM concepts to learners through fun activities using LEGO Mindstorms Robotics kit.

“I would not exchange the experience that we had for anything in the world. I believe our learners (teams) must at least once in their school career experience a trip abroad or at least travel in Africa. It broadens your vision and you will never be the same again,” says Mabaleng.

“For the learners from Carnarvon High having competed on a global stage allowed them to challenge themselves and pushed their limits. The level of competition was extremely high, and it motivated them to perform at their best. Additionally, interacting with participants from different countries and cultures was truly enriching for the team. They got the chance to learn from their perspectives, build friendships, and create lasting connections. Overall, the international competition provided a unique and fulfilling experience that I think they will always cherish. This also acknowledges the dedication of the coaches that work with the learners,” says Magabuko.

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