“It was after playing with my kids, [using] technology, that CodeNgwana was born – in 2019. CodeNgwana was [created] because I believed that coding is love, and I wanted all kids to have equal exposure to technology and coding. Ngwana means child in Sotho, and it was just for me being deliberate about the technological journey of the African child. Our main objective is to help the African child go digital through teaching them coding and computational thinking,” explains Noluvuyo Gqadu in her 2022 TEDxLytteltonWomen Talk.
Noluvuyo Gqadu was recently awarded the South African Entrepreneur of the Year in the Rising Star Awards for the impact that CodeNgwana has made.
Gqadu grew up in Khwezana village in the Eastern Cape, the second largest and poorest province of South Africa. She attended schooling in mud hut classrooms and under trees. This statement about her childhood may feel like history to some or an unfathomable notion to a few, but it is very much the reality of many South African children growing up in rural regions under extremely disadvantageous conditions.
In addition to infrastructure issues, resources and access to technology are limited. And in many cases, the student-to-teacher ratio is far from what it should be, limiting the quality of education learners can receive. Some learners find themselves without a table to do their work on and classes conducted without the necessary supplies or apparatuses, much less the computers or laptops needed to teach the learners computer-based skills such as coding.
A result of these challenges is the youth becoming disillusioned, distressed and demotivated to actively participate in their education or to dream much bigger. It is this kind of crisis that fuelled Gqadu’s passion for social impact, education, and technology. It also sparked her futurist philosophy, at the centre of which is the understanding that children are the future. By asking herself what future Africa has if children are not equipped with the essential resources and skills to take their place in the digital world, CodeNgwana became the solution.
Gqadu’s academic career spans multiple areas of computational and analytical thinking. She studied at several South African institutions in the disciplines of information technology and information systems, economic development, management, non-profit and philanthropy strategy formulation and leadership development for non-profit organisations.
Gqadu’s professional career in tech has followed a very intentional journey, to ensure that she turned her passion and philosophy into reality. Gqadu has occupied roles in information technology as a help desk analyst at Capitec Bank, consultant at the University of Cape Town, project manager at Sasfin, and manager at Glencore. She was also chief executive officer for Inside Out Mentors and currently works as a business advisor and mentor for the California-based Santa Clara University.
Gqadu’s altruism shows itself in her weaponising her technological experience by joining forces with organisations that have a social purpose. For example, in addition to the aforementioned roles, she has served as the non-executive director of Waves for Change – a non-profit organisation that provides child-friendly mental health services for under-resourced communities.
Classified as an education administration programme, CodeNgwana teaches coding to children as young as three and up to 13 years of age. What makes the programme unique is that they offer after-school programmes designed to improve children’s academic performance in STEM subjects, they also have technology literature accessible to the African child because it presents relevant case studies, and they run a teachers’ development programme that expands their reach through the transfer of knowledge. All of these experiences in addition to enhancing the technological skills of their students. The numbers speak for themselves: the organisation presently boast 250 teachers, ten tutors, more than 1,000 textbooks, and over 280 children benefiting from their curriculum.
The programme has been praised by teachers and tutors for its fun and interactive approach, which gives the learners a sense of enthusiasm and excitement in the learning process. Learners are provided with a remarkable educational boost, an experience of new worlds, as well as enriched development, preparing them for their futures as tech leaders, creatives, storytellers, developers or mathematicians.
CodeNgwana operates in Hillbrow and the surrounding areas of Johannesburg. Due to this positive impact it has had in the lives of children in these areas, Gqadu walked away with the 2023 award in the entrepreneur category of TransUnion Rising Star – certifying her as the South African Entrepreneur of the Year.
The Rising Star Awards Programme, which is operated by BlackBark Productions, is an annual event that recognises, celebrates and connects young talented leading professionals whose work has proven to be contributing to the further development of the country, especially towards the future.
We look forward to seeing more growth in CodeNgwana, with more teachers being involved, more tutors being recruited, and more children being prepared for the fifth to sixth industrial revolution – and leading it.