Design software company Autodesk identified local education and skills development campaigns as catalysts to spur interest in and insight into the design industry during its Autodesk University Extension programme, which took place in Cape Town last month.
Autodesk Education global strategic partnerships manager Matthew Bell says that Autodesk is aiming to make software freely available to educational institutions, followed by the creation of inspiring opportunities for students and educators to engage in the use of the latest technology.
“One of the major projects Autodesk is working on is to ensure that students are addressing real-world problems and real design issues, rather than simulating such scenarios in an artificial scenario,” he says. In this regard, Autodesk is working closely with the community in Diepsloot, north of Johannesburg, to address probably its most critical issue – access to potable water and adequate sanitation facilities.
To address basic issues in Diepsloot, Autodesk is collaborating with the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), as well as with young people from the community. Engaging with youth in the Diepsloot community is critical to enhancing education, an initiative supported by Autodesk representatives training the youth in how to use digital design technology, and bringing in other elements of design technology, such as three-dimensional printing.
This project, highlights Bell, has seen the development of integrated toilet systems, and an increase in desgner knowledge in terms of how sustainable design can have an effect on such applications.
To date, 66 students from underprivileged communities, including the Diepsloot community, have passed through the Autodesk training programme.
Autodesk conducted its first visit to Diepsloot in March and the first training sessions were conducted in mid-May. The company also coordinated the hosting of a community plumbing challenge, where local teams worked alongside teams from the US, Australia and India designed and installed toilets.
“These community initiatives encourage students to participate in the Autodesk certified user examination for Autodesk’s Fusion360 software,” he says. Students who pass the examination then have an internationally recognised qualification, which Bell hopes will also encouarge them to share these skills in their community.
Further, Autodesk reports an increasing number of Wits and UJ students offering peer-to-peer learning in their communities, thereby extending the reach of the Autodesk programmes and developing methods of integrating different types of technology into their current curriculum programmes.
Education programmes undertaken in Diepsloot provide an encouraging platform that enables Autodesk to replicate the work done in Diepsloot in African countries, such as Kenya, he notes.
Meanwhile, Autodesk is also working on helping students develop conceptual designs into entrepreneurial opportunities, and possibly developing solutions that are beneficial to underprivileged communities to solve basic needs issues.
However, one of the biggest hindrances to reaching youth in South Africa, and particularly the rest of Africa, is access to the Internet, which facilitates the viewing and downloading of educational programmes and material, states Autodesk Europe, Middle East and Africa technical specialist manager Neil Brooker.
He points out that intermittent access to the Internet is not enough – regular access is essential to ensure that youths have the ability to digest online resources on a continual basis.
Lack of Internet access, however, makes the “huge opportunities to increase education for people in South Africa through conventional means” all the more urgent, including structured interaction in underprivileged townships, says Brooker, adding that Africa’s youthful demographic provides a significant opportunity for not only South Africa but also Autodesk to help develop young people and the future of South Africa.
“Autodesk is intent on designing the type of design software that will help the development of not only countries but also individuals. As cloud-based technology becomes more freely available, we will see a ramping-up of investment in South Africa in education and social upliftment,” he concludes.