“Winile,” Mrs Ngema says, holding up a piece of paper. “Would you please explain this?”
“This is going to be good,” Baka snickers.
“Sssh,” Nomhle says, which is kind of her.”What do you need to know?” I say to the teacher.
“I need to know why you have turned in a paper full of numbers.”
I nod. “Yes, I wrote that after Monday’s class. You had informed us that South African Sign Language, known by the acronym SASL, is now considered an official home language. You then told the class the school may be able to offer an additional language next year and asked us to write a short piece on which new language we believe would be beneficial to our education. I did the assignment and turned it in, which you now have in your hand.”
Mrs Ngema looks at the paper and back at me. “Winile, I can’t read it.”
Baka shoves his fist in his mouth and his belly heaves. I don’t know why; nothing funny is happening. Meanwhile Mrs Ngema is shaking her head. “Winile, it is unlike you to have a smart mouth and I do not understand why you are choosing to do so now. I have asked you a question and would like you to explain yourself.”
“It’s binary code, which computers and other electronic devices use. May I show you?”
Mrs Ngema holds out a white board pen and I walk to the front of the room and take it. At the board I write:
01010100 01100101 01100001 01100011 01101000 00100000 01110101 01110011 00100000 01101000 01101111 01110111 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01100011 01101111 01100100 01100101 00101110
[Teach us how to code.]
01001001 01110100 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01101100 01100001 01101110 01100111 01110101 01100001 01100111 01100101 00100000 01101111 01100110 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01100110 01110101 01110100 01110101 01110010 01100101 00101110
[It is the language of the future.]
“Call me impressed,” Robyn says, as many of my other classmates nod.
Mrs Ngema, however, only looks confused. “Why do you think schools should teach binary code? It appears to me like you already know it.”
Frustration builds, but I don’t want to get in trouble. I’m never in trouble. So I say, “No, I don’t want the school to teach binary code. That would be like teaching ancient Morse code. You know … dots and dashes. We should be learning programming languages, such as Java, HTML, Python, C#, and C++. But I don’t have a computer, just my phone, and that is the situation for most of my friends.”
Mrs Ngema’s eyebrows draw together as she takes a deep breath. “Winile, that is an interesting opinion. But I still do not understand why you did not write it in English.”
“Because,” I say, “I wanted to illustrate how not being able to code in some capacity will make us illiterate in the future job market. According to experts like Ryan Bubinski, coding will no longer be a job in itself, but considered a basic job skill. He said, ‘The future of coding is really the future of work.’”
Mrs Ngema gestures to my desk. “Thank you, Winile. That was … interesting.”
“It always is,” Baka laughs.
The rest of the class joins in.
I can’t tell if I’m a joke or if people really did find it interesting.