Building bridges to a better future


    A visiting team of IBM executives took time off from their busy schedules to visit the Pfunzo Ndi Tshedza Primary School in Mamelodi on Wednesday, 17 October to meet with a class of learners and raise their curiosity by giving a simple, yet thought-provoking lesson in science.

    Located in Extension 6 of the sprawling township, situated to the east of Pretoria, Pfunzo Ndi Tshedza (Education is the Light in Venda), which has 41 educators and just over 1 500 students, stands out as a beacon of hope in the largely impoverished informal settlement.

    pfunzo1-250Setting aside their work for a day, the team headed out to the school to give a class of Grade 6 learners a practical lesson in scienceThe IBM team, who are mostly from the USA but also include two members from Canada and the Netherlands, are part of the Smarter Cities Challenge Programme and are in Pretoria to provide their expertise to the City of Tshwane to help improve the municipality’s water services.

    The team were introduced to the school by Albert Matlheketlha, a project facilitator at the University of Pretoria.


    Setting aside their work for a day, the team headed out to the school to give a class of Grade 6 learners a practical lesson in science, something that IBM teams doing similar projects across the world have done at schools in local communities.

    “The materials that you use are usually very simple – they’re at your home, or at your school, or it’s easy to get hold of at a grocery store – so they’re pretty simple, but they all demonstrate some principle of science,” Sandra Grace, a senior project executive from IBM in California, USA, told some of the teachers who were gathered in the school’s staff room.

    For that day’s science lesson, Grace said the learners would be working on a “Spaghetti Bridge”, which involved learners constructing a bridge made of spaghetti and marshmallows, which would then be tested to see how much weight it would carry, the purpose of which was to teach learners to think about structure and strength.

    While each team member in charge of a group of learners would provide some suggestions to the learners on how to improve their bridges, the exercise was meant to stimulate the children to think for themselves, provide their own ideas and build a strong and sturdy bridge.


    pfunzo2-250Located in Mamelodi Extension 6, Pfunzo Ndi Tshedza has 41 educators and just over 1 500 studentsWelcoming the team, School Principal Mrs Joyce Ndlovu said they shouldn’t be deceived by the school with its well-built buildings: “Within these buildings are vulnerable children – you can see that the area which they come from is an informal settlement,” she said.

    “Most of our learners receive their meals here at school during the break, which is provided by the Department of Education, and it’s unfortunate because for some of them, that will be their first and last meal.”

    On their way to the classroom, the team were treated to a multi-ethnic dance by some of the female learners – dressed in different traditional dresses representing the Zulu, Tswana and Venda cultures – before another young learner treated them to a short excerpt of former President Thabo Mbeki’s famous “I am an African” speech.

    The next hour was devoted to learning through fun, as seven groups of learners, each group being guided by one of the IBM team members, built and refined their spaghetti bridges through a process of trial and error.

    When the bridges were completed, they were then tested: a corner of an envelope was attached to each bridge by a paper clip, and learners added coins, one by one, till their bridge broke or collapsed.

    Emboldened by their efforts, the students took to rebuilding their bridges in different designs, checking to see if they could improve on the number of coins their new creations could support. This continued till the period was over, and one of the teams was declared the winner.


    pfunzo3-250For that day’s science lesson, the learners worked on a “Spaghetti Bridge”, which involved learners constructing a bridge made of spaghetti and marshmallows (Photos: Anish Abraham)“This brings a sense of hope,” said Deputy Principal Mr Jacob Mabe. “What they are doing is literally part of the Grade 7 curriculum, but the team is bringing it in a different way by letting the learners to find solutions

    “They are using play as a means of learning; this is learner-centric education that allows them to discover the problem and find solutions.

    “It is very interesting to see”

    The City of Tshwane was awarded an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant earlier this year, which provides Tshwane with access to teams of specially selected IBM experts who will provide city leaders with analysis and recommendations. The approximate value of each Smarter Cities Challenge grant is equivalent to as much as US$400,000.

    During this engagement teams of specially selected IBM experts will provide city leaders with analysis and recommendations to support successful growth, better delivery of municipal services, more citizen engagement, and improved efficiency.

    The IBM team visiting Tshwane included Sandra Grace, Joanne Bradshaw, Dale Becker and Latha Maripuri from the USA, as well as Boyd Novak from Canada and Frank Sloot from the Netherlands.