‘TANKS’ app firing up future programmers

Student Challens Makondo shows, from left, Lamila Dlakiya, Lindokuhle Mbeki, Inam Dlakiya, Siyanda Dyusha and Aphiwe Pama how TANKS works at a community workshop held in Motherwell.
Student Challens Makondo shows, from left, Lamila Dlakiya, Lindokuhle Mbeki, Inam Dlakiya, Siyanda Dyusha and Aphiwe Pama how TANKS works at a community workshop held in Motherwell.
Image: Mthobeli Moni

Less than a year after its launch, a locally developed app aimed at sparking an interest in programming has been introduced to more than 1,000 young users across the world.

The educational mobile application TANKS, designed by former Nelson Mandela University (NMU) postgraduate student Byron Batteson, celebrated this milestone after its launch in November 2017.

The promotion of TANKS, which teaches basic computer programming principles through a game, is now led by NMU’s Professor Jean Greyling, who supervised Batteson’s creation. According to Greyling, the app and the workshops built around it have been taken across Africa and to some European countries.

The app, which is designed primarily for pupils aged 10 to 14, has a tank moving through a maze, following directions provided in the form of physical tokens that form a puzzle and direct the tank when they are photographed.

“A friend who travelled to seven African countries as part of an educational outreach took the material and showed it at different schools along the way,” Greyling said.

Greyling himself took the workshop to Norway as well during a recent trip – though under a different title.

“The concept of using tanks is too military for European countries, so we needed the alternative theme of plastics in the ocean.”

The workshop was therefore introduced as the board game BOATS, which will be launched locally in app form at the end of the month as well.

Meanwhile, the local reception of TANKS has been favourable, with several schools showing interest in implementing it in their curriculum and after-school programmes.

“We had a workshop in Mvezo and had difficulty getting the children to stop playing. The energy is always there - and the enthusiasm in Mvezo and Port Elizabeth is exactly the same.”

Greyling hopes to reach 100 000 pupils by the time TANKS reaches its fifth birthday, and to bring sponsors on board.

“We’ve partnered with the Leva Foundation, which empowers us to negotiate with sponsors.

“I want to have teams of interns facilitating the workshops and encouraging learners to think about coding.

“My biggest dream for the app is that in three or four years we’ll have graduates in the computing science department who will say their first experience with coding was through TANKS.”

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