Robotics and Football?! The future of youth football in Africa

Robots 6 = Boys JHS team member Nuhu starts the robot going into the final round

 JHS boys team member Nuhu starts the robot going into the final round

The New Times Corp has been eagerly following one of the most powerful stories in youth development in Ghana and is inspired by what this means for the country.

In Ghana, football is often associated with illiteracy, or parents’ fears that if their children chose football it means giving up on school. There are many negative stories of children being promised a lot by agents and then being left in worse positions than when they started with few hopes for the future.

Well here is something totally differ, something to inspire us all…

At the Right to Dream Academy in Old Akrade, Eastern Region, 11 students have been preparing for a competition that has nothing to do with football. For several weeks, the robotics club have spent most of their time in the ICT classroom, heads together, bent over the large table, testing their robots on the purpose-built course.

This Saturday their preparation was put to the test at the Ghana RegionalRobotics-inspired Science Education (RISE) Championships, hosted by the Ghana Robotics Academy Foundation, andheld at Christ the King School, Accra.A full 12 hours of action saw teams from the best schools in Southern Ghana competing in a test of intellect, reasoning and team work.

Up against high-brow private schools in Accra, reserved for the relatively social elite, such as SOS ….., it certainly would be exceptional if a full scholarship football academy were to be placed at all.

However, the students’ natural competitiveness, didn’t seem to illustrate this context whatsoever. When asked whether they thought they would win, the unanimous answer was “Of course, we will definitely win.”

Robots 7 = Girls’ team members Abigail and Queenstar following their robot as it tackles the course

 Girls’ team members Abigail and Queenstar following their robot as it tackles the course

Right to Dream entered three teams. One Primary team of all girls, one in the JHS category, and one in the open event. Faati, one of the girls in the JHS team, and a mentor to some of the younger girls competing said, “This is a remarkable statement for gender equality in Ghana. Not only are these girls competing at the highest level in football, breaking many social conventions, but also challenging the academic elite of this country… And what is even more remarkable is that some of these girls came to the RTD Academy only 18 months ago speaking no English!”

The suspense was building throughout the day as the students felt the pressure. Faati’s team mate Nuhu, a full back from the Academy, but more importantly for this day, a Programmer, worked frantically, as all was to play for going into the final round.It was not until the last minutes that the final changes in calibration to their robots came into full effect, and both JHS and Open teams leapt into first position in their respective divisions.

As soon as the final round had ended, the Right to Dream students ran back to their station and jumped around, dancing and hugging in celebration. They were celebrating their own private victory for the robotics club. All the hours and hours they had spent together in a classroom when everyone else was at football practice, when everyone else was going from one lesson to another. And as they celebrated their personal victory, Right to Dream could celebrate theirs – to be the first football academy to win national robotics championships.

Christian Taylor, head of ICT at Right to Dream has been running the club for the past year and his pride is clear to all.  “Right to Dream is showing Ghana and the world that talented kids from any background can compete in sport and academics together, and that a great education is really important to football development as well as life. Right to Dream believes in the talent of kids in Ghana, that they can go on to be leaders and ambassadors, to inspire a generation.”

Considering how, at one level Right to Dream had 6 of its past players in the recent Black Stars squad, and has 3 players in the Ghana U17’s competing in the World Cup this month, it is truly amazing that at the same time their players and students are winning national level academic competitions. Science and robots are not things that the world associates with sport and especially not footballers. One excited jump for the robotics club, one enormous stride towards changing the face of football.

The Managing Director, Robin Bourne-Taylor, went to the competition to support the students and was delighted by the result. “This is one of the most powerful messages for Ghana youth, and shows that kids from all backgrounds can compete on a world stage if they are given the opportunity. Our recent education partnerships with Tullow and Lego Education have catalysed this opportunity, and this will be the first of many powerful statements that will change the dreams of children and parents across the country.”

Dr Yaw, National Director of RISE, was impressed by Right to Dream’s performance and shook hands with Christian and Robin with fresh enthusiasm and sincerity. In an interview immediately after the competition, he explained he was “Excited to see Right to Dream has put up this level of performance. Seeing footballers so excited by technology and science is wonderful. There will be a lot of opportunities for these young people, not just in soccer and sports, but in the area of science and technology. The sky is the limit.”He ended the interview with a strong message. With a broad smile, and a determined look, he said “And I truly believe, that everyone has a right to dream.”

It seems that this is the future of youth football in Africa. Right to Dream go on to compete in the National finals against the winning team from Northern, Central, Eastern and Western Ghana. The winner will go onto represent our country at the world championships. We are behind Right to Dream and want them to succeed, so that this powerful message is spread across the world.







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