Scholars democratizing access to technology in SA

The meeting of great minds has always been a catalyst for technological advancement, development, and social change. Riaz Moola, beneficiary of the Tiso Foundation and Canon Collins Global Leaders programme, and Canon Collins alumna, Taskeen Adam, both studying at the University of Cambridge, are pooling their considerable drive and talent to develop an exciting initiative that could change the face of computer science and software development in South Africa.

Riaz Moola (funded through a partnership between Canon Collins Trust and the Tiso Foundation) is the founder of Hyperion Development, an organisation that, since 2012, has been delivering free online computer science and programming courses in South Africa. During his time as an undergraduate student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Riaz, already a self-taught expert in computer programming, was disheartened by the basic standard of computer science education on offer and the high dropout rate amongst his peers. However, he saw this situation as remediable; something he had the power to influence. “I felt we had good people and resources in South Africa. We just needed to use them better.”

Riaz is dedicated to the creation of social change and he firmly believes that technology, harnessed correctly, can play a key role in remedying inequalities of South African pupil performance based on social background. “I believe that addressing educational issues in computer science is a foundational step towards resolving widespread inequalities still present in South Africa today

It was the strong belief in the democratizing mission of his company that led him to pursue an MPhil in Technology Policy at Cambridge this year. He felt that this postgraduate degree would equip him with the skills he needed to shape public policy with regards to technology in education, as well as to develop Hyperion through the establishment of key partnerships.His scholarship is part of the Tiso Foundation’s ‘Cambridge Global Leadership Programme’, which recognises the benefit of opportunities available at this, one of the world’s foremost universities. Riaz was selected as a recipient of the award as a student who would be sure to use these opportunities to invest directly in the future of his home country.

Through the Canon Collins scholar network, Riaz found a formidable business partner in Taskeen Adam, a Cambridge PhD student of Engineering for Sustainable Development. Taskeen has long believed that the engineering and the technological sector have an important role to play in achieving sustainable development in her native South Africa, and in Africa as a whole. “Lack of adequate education and access to technology is the reason for seemingly insurmountable economic divides and high levels of unemployment in South Africa. I envision a future where access to the internet will be a human right.”

Taskeen’s ultimate goal has always been to establish a social entrepreneurial business that will help communities through innovation. By engaging with the Hyperion project, she has achieved just that.

After several months of negotiation, Riaz, Taskeen, and the rest of the Cambridge-based Hyperion team have raised a total of R1.3 million through awards from Google & the Python Software Foundation, and partnered with a number of international and local organisations including the British Computing Society and South African Department of Education. With this funding, Hyperion will lead a range of projects in 2016 to support the realignment of computing related fields in South Africa to match international standards, and to accelerate the training & development of a new generation of programmers in Africa.

This great achievement was made possible by the hard-work, perseverance, collaborative spirit and dedication to social change that is so characteristic of Canon Collins scholars.

To find out more about the Tiso Foundation, click here.