[By Justin Spratt] About 50 geeks descended on Stanford Valley, 20 minutes from Hermanus in the Western Cape, at the weekend for the second annual GeekRetreat.
Participants had trepidations at first, with a few sceptics among the people chosen to attend. By the end of the weekend, though, these sceptics had become the loudest evangelists. The energy was electric, with some people saying they had goose bumps they felt so inspired.
The theme this year was education, which, in my opinion, is the key macroeconomic indicator of a country’s future success. It started with a panel, chaired by erudite journalist Ivo Vegter, on the state of education in the country and how technology can be used to solve its problems.
Opinions were mixed — with solutions that revolve around the teacher, to a focus on students.
There was heated discussion about how much technology can help reduce the cost of education. Some participants even suggested replacing teachers in some instances with online and mobile education software.
Steve Vosloo, education fellow at the Shuttleworth Foundation, told participants that SA invests more in education than any other developing nation as a percentage of GDP. This is incongruent with the results the system is producing.
The retreat then moved on to a “talking heads” format, where the geeks were broken up into small group to discuss ideas related to education. Many great ideas were put forward and these turned into deeper discussions at the lunch and dinner sessions.
Quirk eMarketing CEO Rob Stokes led a heated discussion about Silicon Cape, an initiative to build a technology start-up culture in the Western Cape, and how GeekRetreat and Silicon Cape could work together. A great deal of concern was voiced about the lack of women and black people involved in both projects. There was also concern that Silicon Cape excluded the rest of SA.
There were some incredible presentations, too many to mention here. However, one that bears mentioning was the presentation from the Kayton brothers — Barry and Patrick — and their upcoming release of their “iTunes for ideas” software called Cognician. This is exciting software that could prove to be a powerful tool in accelerated learning.
I am wary of conferences in general and when the GeekRetreat’s Heather Ford first approached me to help build the concept, she was adamant that this would not be, to quote Stokes, “another circle-jerk”. After the second event, I am convinced that the GeekRetreat movement is creating something special that can make a difference to SA’s development.
The next retreat will focus on attracting young geek talent and reaching out to underprivileged communities.
- Spratt is co-founder of ISLabs