High school learners creating amazing apps
It's easier than ever for high school learners nowadays. All it takes is a good idea, some technical skills and business savvy, and anybody could launch a brilliant application that changes the world. But developing those skills requires time and dedication – and maybe a helping hand, if you're lucky.
The 2013 Blackberry ® Mobile Application Development (MAD) Challenge, launched on the University of the Western Cape (UWC) campus on Friday 14 June 2013, could provide the firm guidance needed for entrepreneurs-to-be from South African high schools to change the world – and perhaps make a profit while doing so.
The MAD Challenge, now in its second year, forms part of a national initiative aimed at introducing high school learners to the world of mobile application development. Hosted by the e-Skills Institute's Western Cape and Gauteng CoLabs, sponsored by Blackberry, and running from June through to October at the Western Cape CoLab (UWC) as well as the Blackberry ® Apps Lab at the Bandwidth Barn in Cape Town, the Challenge will give learners the opportunity to develop the skills to create their own mobile applications for the market.
Eighty-six Grade 10 and 11 learners from a variety of schools – in the Western Cape, including such diverse schools as Mondale High School, Cosat (Centre of Science and Technology), Muizenberg High School, Paul Roos Gymnasium and even Hermanus High School – qualified to take part in the Challenge based on their academic proficiency (especially in mathematics, IT and business subjects) and ability to generate ideas. The IT curriculum advisors of the Department of Education ensure that the Challenge is aligned with the formal curriculum.
UWC Information Systems lecturer Dr Johan Breytenbach, originator of the MAD Challenge, welcomed the contestants and introduced them to the intricacies of the Challenge. He encouraged them to collaborate as well as compete – while there can only be a few winning apps, developers should ideally work in teams, as they will produce better work that way. Fellow lecturer Dr Leona Craffert Director of the CoLab, introduced the CoLab mentor group consisting of students and interns from the Computer Science Department. These students were trained in the BB language during the first part of the year and will now share their knowledge and guide the participants throughout the MAD challenge..
The launch saw learners being introduced to the basics of using the Java programming language and installing and setting up the necessary tools to develop apps for Blackberry ® handsets and playbooks. Following a programming boot camp in the June holidays, five further training sessions will be facilitated by experienced trainers on Friday afternoons. The sessions will focus on the further development of the participants' core technical proficiency, as well as their design and entrepreneurial skills. After that, learners will have 4 to 6 weeks to complete their mobile applications.
Winning apps last year included those with a strong educational focus – including one that took the learner driver's test and turned it into a self-testing-and-studying app – and those that allowed users to share content on a GIS/map view platform.
This year, the apps produced should fall into three broad categories: People (an app that makes a difference in the health or function of the community); Planet (an app that makes people more environmentally aware or encourages green thinking and behaviour); and Profit (an app that shows excellent business sense and can survive in the market). Winning app developers will receive Blackberry ® Playbooks and other prizes at a gala prize giving in October.
Dr. Breytenbach explained what a great opportunity this could be. “You're going to be receiving training for free,” he told the learners, “and the app will remain yours to do with as you please afterwards. What we all get out of it is an improved app ecosystem. We need more apps developed for South Africans by South Africans; I hope you're up to the challenge.”