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Eric Khumalo, a Mastercard Foundation Scholar at UC Berkeley, asked himself, “How can I help create employment in the African continent?” It was an ambitious question, but one that Khumalo decided to tackle in order to better the opportunities for students from his region of origin in and around Zimbabwe. He thought about the scholarship that afforded him latitude to embark on such a quest. “I thought about the community that raised me and my passion for teaching.” He thought too about the loss of potential in the face of fewer opportunities.
“There is so much talent--there were so many other students who were as smart as I am, but didn’t get the opportunity to come and study in the United States to get this level of exposure,” and he considered how he could transfer his own knowledge. “So I thought maybe I could become a bridge and my exposure and connection could help others get jobs.”
So he started Emzini weCode, which serves the African diaspora in providing the fundamentals of computer science.
Emzini means “house” in Zulu. He came up with the name when he had to write a letter of recommendation for one of his students, realizing at that moment that it was important for his foundation to have a name. “House,” he thought, was a fitting name for the program, with the feeling of sanctuary within which learning occurs. “This is a house of code. Everyone can just come in and learn to code and learn more about technology.”
Emzini weCode is the largest online computer science class in the African continent as well as the first of its kind.
“I want to be a bridge and introduce students to succeed by teaching fundamentals.” Success, Khumalo stated, is personalized to each student, “whether they are interested in advanced scholarship or entrepreneurs who want to learn to build websites.”
Emzini weCode aims to introduce Computer Science education to talented young people to circumvent social and financial barriers. Khumalo has a team of teaching assistants, eleven out of twelve of whom are alums of the program.
Khumalo’s drive and charisma helped him found and build Emzini weCode—which entailed building relationships online and getting the word out about the program. His drive and charisma and attention to detail, too, enabled effective teaching and learning.
Khumalo had to navigate the logistical challenges of supporting students located across the world (from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Algeria, to Tunisia and beyond) while he himself was in Berkeley, California.
So he picked up Gradescope to help him scale, provide feedback, and gain real-time data insights into how his students learned. He also used Whatsapp to communicate with his students--sometimes using the phone application for communicating exam questions to students who didn’t always have laptops and reliable internet access and often coded via smartphones.
In short, Khumalo used Gradescope for end-to-end assessment.
As Emzini weCode students progressed, Khumalo wondered how to nurture them further—knowing that knowledge was one thing, but communicating that knowledge via interview processes was another. “You might have this foundational knowledge,” Khumalo said, “but no idea of how you can use it in an interview.” He himself had gained valuable internships right after his freshman year, so, he knew how integral interview skills could be to future employment and success. In fact, one of his students, per his urging, “applied for an internship even before he got on the flight to Stanford.”
So he used Gradescope to help provide students with feedback on written interview questions and also conducted mock interviews. “I reached out to some of my friends who are software engineers, and then they volunteered to do mock interviews for a one-month program,” he said.
In the first 2019 class alone, 42 students graduated, with 14 heading to the US for higher education, institutions which include Stanford, University of Rochester, Northwestern University, and Alabama State University. Graduates have received internships and full-time job offers at Uber, Hinge, Goldman-Sachs, Bank of America, Intuit, as well as startups and research institutes. In the Summer of 2021, 200 students enrolled with Emzini weCode. The majority of Emzini’s students are in Zimbabwe and South Africa but include other members of the diaspora living in the United States, Canada, Kenya, Nigeria, Germany, Poland, Namibia, Algeria, India, China, Tunisia, and Italy.
In addition to the above achievements, Khumalo says that one of his students applied for Google’s Developers Student Club Solution Challenge. She, along with her team named Capstone, was chosen as one of the top 10 worldwide projects.
All this shows so much promise that Khumalo is now looking to expand Emzini weCode as he plans a return to Africa for a year to solely focus on the program. Simultaneously, he is looking for additional funding to scale the program.
This is a heartwarming story about the compassion, drive, and ingenuity of Eric Khumalo who has gone above and beyond in delivering education to a dramatically underserved community.
The power of technology can enhance education—and this is also a story about the flexibility of such tools to accommodate a variety of learning outcomes and methodologies to better the lives of students. “With code, they can now actually speak the language as students have exposure to more technologies. Even with memes, they’re laughing more than I do, as they gain an implicit understanding of code,” said Khumalo, who can be reached at email@example.com.