By Mmaki Jantjies
The Mozilla foundation hosts an annual technology showcase festival named the Mozfest which members of the public from around the world are invited to participate in. After hearing much about the role of the Mozfest in positioning conversations on openness of technology and the Internet in the public domain, Chante (an honours student from the University of the Western Cape in South Africa) and I, got an opportunity to attend this festival. My initial perception of Mozfest was that it was a candy store for technology geeks, showcasing the most innovative technology developments by developers from around the globe.
To my surprise the Mozfest was quite the opposite! Through the eyes of a geeky mom who loves science and teaching technology to young children, and also helps run technology clubs for young women and girls, let’s take a look at what Mozfest 2016, had to offer.
A view through the Google cardboard virtual reality kit used in classroom learning
Thursday Women and Web Literacy meetup
We began the festival with a pre-mozfest event where some of the leading women in science, technology and web literacy from around the world were invited to participate. Led by Amira Dhalla (global Mozilla women and web literacy clubs leader), the session was very productive with women from different walks of life conceding on issues affecting women and committing to using technology platforms such as social media and online applications, to start different initiatives and use these platforms such as social media campaigns and existing networks, to tackle these challenges. Women also agreed to support each other in these different initiatives around the world.
I was also lucky to meet up with an African cohort of fellow technology evangelists and geeks from the awesome Geekulcha movement and Girlhype, and we had so much fun discussing on how we can enhance the culture of technology and innovation amongst young children in South Africa.
From left to right: Baratang, founder of Girlhype, Chante Jansen, Leader of club Kika at UWC, Hildah regional leader of Mozilla clubs in Kenya, yours truely and Mixo founder of Geekulcha (picture source: Mixo)
Friday night science fair
The festival stared off with a science fair, showcasing the different research initiatives which empower communities around the world. What caught my eye was the neuroscience robot which is a tool used to teach children in schools about neurons and reflexology! This was a presentation by one of the science fellows of Mozilla, Teon, a young neuroscientist who was talking about his invention which helped children understand how neurons relate to muscle reflex. I then asked Teon, Danniella (a geeky mom researching on improving reproducibility and digital literacy in the sciences) and Matt who are the very cool open science and open web Mozilla fellows, if they could come to South Africa and present their cool career paths and work to youth as they captured the use of technology to teach about science and also impact the community on the open web so well, through their research initiatives. I was also amazed by an intriguing conversation with Matt , an open web fellow discussing the struggles of South African youth in terms of having education freely available and accessible to them and how the web can be used as a catalyst to achieve this.
science fellows showcasing the neuroscience robot
I then met a young man from Manchester, Ben who was blind and was a software developer for BBC! I was blown away by his zeal to get blind children coding. All I could think about was the many disabled children in South Africa and around the world who probably don’t know that software development is a great space which they can be a part of only if there were resources to help them get into this space.
On Saturday we prepared for a session to teach about the way in which we run technology clubs for girls in Africa with the session led by a fellow technology evangelists Hilda Nyakwakwa who leads Mozilla clubs for women and girls in East Africa and Maryann one of the club leaders from Kenya. The session was titled: Women, my safe space, a women’s tale. The session showcased how we create a safe space while teaching technology to the young girls in our communities. Everyone walked away from the session feeling compelled to start a movement that would make the Internet an inclusive and safer space for any girl child!
Upon scouring the different stalls and sessions, I then landed at the youth zone! A whole floor dedicated to showcasing technologies that can be used to teaching young children about science and technology using different technology platforms. Hobot really captured me! Hobot was a robot which children could control using a remixed version of the scratch platform. The joy that children had in allowing the different robots to converse using their commands really captured the participants.
hobot telling me how good his day was
After forcing myself back from the child zone, I attended the encryption session. The session taught people what the role of encryption was and how members of the public could use encryption to protect data transmitted online. After getting my ciphering and deciphering mood on, I decided to tone down on the technology geeky stuff and attended a session on how institutions were using open badges (an unconventional portfolio of evidence that moves beyond grading to include community work etc) to document and recognise the efforts of students in learning institutions and even employees in corporate institutions.
On Sunday I sat in a clubs session led by Julia Vallera (global Mozilla clubs leader) where we discussed how we can enhance the role of our technology clubs around the world. I then moved on to the curriculum design workshop where we gave feedback on our different experiences in the Mozfest. I also shared my UWC clubs experiences with people who wanted to start similar learning clubs for women and girls in their country.
By now you should have realized how biased my views are to technology, the reality is, the Mozfest was more than just about technology. It was about the use of platforms to teach art or the use of art to teach tech. It was about talks on how openness can be attained by educating people on the importance of openness and getting them to think how open is technology to enable citizen participation in the 21st century? I can go on and on!
Characterised by DJ’s music, the conjunction between art, justice and tech, talks, science and technology showcases and plenty of networking, the Mozfest was ecstatic! Walking away from the Mozfest my views of the festival had completely changed. I walked away with “hives of networks and knowledge of tech goodies” of how the average man on the street can create and be able to showcase a platform which could be used to support anyone around the world, true to the meaning of openness. Indeed the Mozfest was a candy store, however a candy store that allowed anyone to put technology and science back into the hands of everyday human beings, allowing them to address everyday issues through the technology platforms. My mission here was complete.
global Mozilla tech club leaders