Pupils win with pad app

Westridge High School librarian Bonita Abrahams, mentor Olivia Carolissen and pupils Tamika Ripepi, Mishca George, Bilqees Brenner, Simone Wolmarans, Beyonce Birch and Anesha Branders - winners of the Artificial Intelligence challenge.

A group of Westridge High School girls won an artificial intelligence (AI) competition by designing an app to link girls in need of sanitary towels and tampons with donors.

Pupils Tamika Ripepi, Mishca George, Bilqees Brenner, Simone Wolmarans, Beyonce Birch and Anesha Branders found a solution to a social problem by using digital concepts and the ethics of technology taught to them at the “AI in Mitchell’s Plain” boot camp between Friday March 15 and Sunday March 17.

They were one of 10 groups of six girls each, who learned that AI is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.

The Kgalema Motlanthe Foundation in collaboration with several other organisations and companies, including the Western Cape Education Department’s (WCED) Safe Schools, Microsoft South Africa, IDEA (Innovative Design Education Africa) Collective and AI in Africa, Fliptin Venture Builders, Old Mutual, Absa’s WorkInProgress innovation lab hosted the 60 Mitchell’s Plain high school girls and taught them how to apply technology to their daily lives to create solutions for their communities.

The boot camp for the girls from Beacon Hill High School, Oval North High School, both in Beacon Valley and Lentegeur High School, Portland High School and Westridge High School was planned in between International Women’s Day (March 8) and Human Rights Day, tomorrow Thursday March 21, and hosted in Woodstock, Pinelands and Lentegeur civic centre at the weekend.

Each group had five minutes within which to present their app, having incorporated AI, to a panel of judges, the girls’ peers, their families, principals, event sponsors and trustees of the foundation of former interim and deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe and his wife Gugu.

Simone said the purpose of their chatbot (a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the internet) was to teach girls good hygiene practices during menstruation and to provide sanitary products to girls in need. “We wanted to help solve problems by creating a virtual network across the globe,”she said.

Their target market is girls who did not have access to sanitary products and who did not have another woman or mother figure who could teach them hygienic practices.

Beyonce said they created the app, called Violet, to inspire girls and tell them that for every problem there is a solution.

Another group of Westridge High School girls were runners-up with their app called Drop In, who put a spin on adults who have left school, either because of teenage pregnancy, were not interested in school or had to take care of their families.

The app aims to help adults and children get academically stronger.

“Our app was designed to assist and support adults who dropped out of school to get their matric certificate, to get the job they so deserve and need, not only for themselves but to support their families as well,” said Zaina Jacobs, one of the girls during the presentation.

Nazima Singh spoke to the app’s ability to help students with its tutorial videos, audio books and supporting material to better understand their school work.

Principal Edgar Magaar said he was proud of the girls’ achievements and quick grasp of the subject matter.

Speaking to the Plainsman during a lunch break on Sunday March 17, Ms Motlanthe said the foundation will be returning to Mitchell’s Plain to check up on the girls and further support them.

“We are so very impressed with these girls,” she said. “They are solving social problems in their communities. They know what is going on in their community, with gangsterism, cyber bullying and all of these social ills. They came up with solutions for their own problems,”she said.

During the opening of the boot camp on Friday March 15, Ms Motlanthe said: “It is the choices we make that can change our lives forever. The foundation places the wellbeing of our nation’s youth at the heart of our work, with the belief of equipping pupils with 21st century skills, which will help prepare South Africa for the fourth industrial revolution and lay the foundation building blocks to an inclusive society,” she said.

Mitchell’s Plain is the second township, after Soweto, with whom the foundation has hosted this programme to help the girls improve their socio-economic future and that of their community.

Before leaving Lentegeur civic centre on Sunday March 17 Mr Motlanthe told the girls that he would be back to see their progress.

Mustapha Zaouini, head of technology and innovation for the Kgalema Motlanthe Foundation and chief executive officer of Fliptin, said the programme was about connecting the participants with leading thinkers who position ethical and sustainable learning in the centre of the education process, to unlock the power of technology.

“Through these boot camps, we aim to cause a major mind-set change in the girls, which is fused with the tools to implement new ideas leveraging the technology of tomorrow; a potent combination that capacitates a lifelong way of thinking for success,” he said.

The boot camp will be run in seven other areas and the culmination of the programmes will result in one of the pupils receiving a bursary.

Lee Chana, programme director for AI Africa, was extremely impressed by the confidence and creativity shown by the girls. “I am so proud of the achievements of the girls over an extremely short period of time and acknowledge the support from the teachers and the principals. Without their support and encouragement, we would not be able to do what we do,” she said.

Ms Chana called on partners and donors to support the programme in order for it to grow in South Africa.