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UWC’s Shining Star: Mmaki Jantjies On Changing The World Through STEM Education

Author: Nicklaus Kruger

UWC’s Prof Mmaki Jantjies is passionate about the potential of STEM and the Fourth Industrial Revolution to change the way we live, work and view the world – and her passion has earned her a spot among the Inside Education 100 South African Shining Stars.

(Published - 11 September 2020)

This probably won’t surprise you to hear - but COVID-19 has rapidly changed the world we live, work and learn. New models of learning and teaching have been adopted at a rapid pace, new tools and techniques have been devised, and innovative educators like the University of the Western Cape’s Professor Mmaki Jantjies have worked tirelessly to improve the lives of learners.

Those efforts have earned her a spot among the Inside Education 100 South African Shining Stars, exceptional youths who excel in their fields and in their dedication to serving society.

“It’s a great honour to be included in such esteemed company,” she said. “But I think for me, we don't necessarily strive for lists; instead, we strive to change peoples lives. If you do get listed then it simply means someone recognises your work. So in collaboration and in pursuing our passion, everything else such as this list follows.”

That’s certainly been the case in her career thus far.

Prof Mmaki Jantjies holds degrees from four universities in South Africa and beyond, and is one of the first black South African women to obtain a PhD in computer science. She has taught at three South African universities, and greatly contributed to research on mobile learning technology development for mathematics and science in South African schools, with a focus on multilingual content presentation.

Her passion for using technology to enable children from disadvantaged backgrounds to get access to online resources and championship of diversity in STEM have already earned her a spot among the #Inspiring50SA, the Mail & Guardian Young 200, and the Young Mandelas - among many other accolades.

“South Africa is just not producing enough human resources to address the pressing needs of STEM sectors,” she said. “We need doctors in rural communities; we need engineers who use sustainable solutions across sectors; and we need a new generation of African technology innovators.  There are many hindrances that affect learners’ access to these areas, so in focusing on education in STEM sectors, we hope that one day there will be a large uptake of these careers by children - who will become the leaders we need.”

Collaboration, Empowerment And Changing The World

Prof Jantjies is also the coordinator of the UWC Mozilla technology clubs for young girls. These clubs teach young girls and boys from  local communities to empower themselves through technology.  They also provide a safe space for children in Cape Town township high schools, empowering them with ICT skills, teaching them to be safe when online, imparting leadership skills and enabling them to make use of the web for their own betterment, and that of others.

“Unfortunately, the technology space tends to lack so much diversity and often feels exclusive –  so we wanted to stimulate the idea of having a career in tech, while providing the necessary skills and providing positive role models to follow,” she explained. “And even if they don’t choose a career in tech, they get the basics of tech before going on to university, while also creating a safe space where they can talk about issues affecting their communities.”

And now, she’s also founded a second organisation called Peo Ya Phetogo, which imparts these skills to teachers in schools.

“Having technology support initiatives can motivate learners and teachers alike, and spark interest among children to experiment with technology,” she noted. “And improving mathematics in high school is the first point of call in building confidence to deal with technology. And mentoring is a fundamental aspect of growth and experience for helping all of us attain our full potential.”

And lockdown hasn’t slowed her down. She has written about better use of technology in educating children at home and elsewhere; worked on innovative technology to teach the periodic table more effectively, especially for Xhosa-speaking students; advocated for and inspired women in science; and more.

She’s not planning on slowing down anytime soon.

“I think for me what I value is using my work to try and impact people's lives,” she noted. “I've had to learn that ‘wicked’ problems take years to address and only through collaboration will we move the needle in impacting society. So I always believe that even if I can change one person's life that for me means a lot. And being amongst other people who share the same passion is a real privilege for me.”

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