Cape Town-based EdTech Startup Is Future-proofing Our Children By Teaching Them To Code

SkillUp is combining innovative software with a team of expert tutors to equip kids with fundamental coding skills to help them navigate the ever-changing world of technology. 

In the new knowledge economy, a solid education is core to the success of each individual and the prosperity of a nation as a whole. And while South Africa is battling to overcome an ongoing education crisis, the world is moving on, driven by technology. Most young people that currently enter the workforce face newly emerging job categories and jobs that will be radically affected by automation. It is now more important than ever to be professionally future-proof. And that future looks technical. 

Heavy Chef asked CEO and founder, Matthew Henshall, why coding so important in the SA context, as opposed to more practical skills? 

"Firstly, coding has the potential to create jobs," says Henshall. "South Africa sits in a unique space where we have some of the most high-quality, yet affordable, workers in the world. While practical skills are important and should be highly valued, coding has the ability to put the SA workforce to work on the global playing field. While a plumber might be limited to their city, a programmer has high-leverage, and is able to work for anyone in the world while bringing money into SA. Secondly, coding has the potential to solve many problems in South Africa, but it needs South Africa's, who understand the uniquely South African context, to create homegrown solutions." 

 Matthew Henshall, CEO of Skillup

Matthew Henshall, CEO of Skillup

"Coding has the potential to create jobs. South Africa sits in a unique space where we have some of the most high-quality, yet affordable, workers in the world." 

When asked where does SA sit within the global context, in terms of our coding proficiency, Henshall continued:

"It is difficult to say, but like many things, our proficiency in coding will be largely proportional to our infrastructure and specifically access to the internet and hardware. Only about half the country has access to the internet. As the other half gains access so will the opportunity to meet these peoples needs via the internet. Access to the internet is access to opportunity, the opportunity will require coding proficiency."

"Sure, it is a buzzword," says Henshall, "but being ‘future-proof’ essentially means that you are prepared and taking the necessary steps to ensure that you will remain being a valuable asset in years to come."

To diminish the impact of disruptive change on employment, computer programming has become a skill that schools in many countries regard as intrinsic to primary education as maths and English. Long story short: coding is basic literacy in the digital age. It is what makes the next generation future-proof.

SkillUp is a Cape Town based EdTech Startup that offers parents and students across South Africa access to thousands of highly skilled and carefully vetted tutors based on grades, subject, location, and budget. The SkillUp platform makes it easy to find and communicate with tutors and facilitates the purchasing and scheduling of both in-person and online lessons. 

Computer programming has become a skill that schools in many countries regard as intrinsic to primary education as maths and English.

SkillUp recently developed and launched its own coding course, utilising its proprietary Teaching Kids to Code software. The course teaches kids coding fundamentals and a team of expert tutors assist kids to build their own websites using HTML, CSS and an introduction to JavaScript – a foundational start to their coding journey. 

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SkillUp launched its pilot coding project in partnership with Rustenburg Girls' Junior School in Cape Town. Since the start of Term 3, SkillUp has been teaching more than 300 girls from grades 3 to 6 at the School how to code. Each week, the girls build a website based on a variety of topics including: South Africa, Our Solar System, Geography, Finance, Maths, and, most recently, their own Wikipedia page on Famous Women in History - fitting for Women’s Month in South Africa.

“The program is intended to equip kids with a fundamental and ubiquitous skill to help them navigate the ever-changing world of technology. These young girls we are teaching have been highly engaging and are already adding employable skills to their yet-to-exist CV’s. In a short couple of months these 8 to 12-year-olds will be streaks ahead of their contemporaries, not only in South Africa, but on a global playing field,” says Matthew Henshall, CEO and Co-Founder of SkillUp. “We’ve even had some parents asking if we can teach them what their kids are being taught at school,” Henshall adds.

Earlier this year, SkillUp received a Series A funding round from leading venture capital firm Knife Capital. The funding is being applied to accelerate user acquisition of learners and tutors, leverage partnerships with content providers and scale the business internationally. 

“A lot of EdTech Startups are all about removing humans from the education coalface, while SkillUp is all about scaling knowledgeable and vetted humans into the education space using technology,” says Andrea Bӧhmert, Managing Partner at Knife Capital. “The SkillUp kids coding course is relevant, affordable, homegrown and most importantly – it has the potential to future-proof young students into a broad range of career opportunities and open many doors for them” she says.

While the pilot coding project is currently being implemented at Rustenburg Girls' Junior School, soon many schools and individuals will be able to be a part of the coding revolution. SkillUp has plans to expand its offering to more schools in Southern Africa and even further abroad in 2019, with a couple of key schools and partners already signed up.