Dr Mmaki Jantjies

Head of information systems department, University of the Western Cape,

Dr Mmaki Jantjies is one of the first black women to obtain a PhD in computer science, and has greatly contributed to research on mobile learning technology development for mathematics and science in South African schools, with a focus on multilingual content presentation. She continues to research how education technology can be developed and used to enhance learning in developing countries.

“My parents are both community builders, and this influenced me in my approach to a career when I was growing up,” Mmaki says. “I was passionate about engineering; I wanted to be the best engineer who would assist South African policy development in the engineering field. I was also fascinated by the growing field of computer science and realised the lack of females skilled in this area, and how working in it would allow me to ‘engineer’ systems.”

Her area of research is Information and communication technology (ICT) for development — how computer systems and frameworks can be developed and used to enhance fields such as education, small business and the health sector in South Africa.

“I am also passionate to see an uptake of Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects by children in disadvantaged communities and I dedicate much of my research to seeing how we can develop mobile learning software systems, accessible in South African languages in Stem subjects, that support teaching and learning in this area,” she says. “In developing various adaptive mobile systems, I hope to address the existing contextual challenges in these sectors. Among other grants, I hold a Google grant to develop curriculum and teach teachers how to use technology to support computer science learning in schools.”

Jantjies is currently the head of the information systems department at the University of the Western Cape, and is also the co-ordinator of Mozilla and the UN Women technology clubs for girls.

She mentors graduate female students to run extramural technology clubs in township and rural schools in Cape Town. The clubs focus on teaching basic technology skills to young girls.

“As a young leader, you don’t have the luxury of respect that comes with age; your experience and your hard work are all you have,” she says. “So in my life, in every organisation I have been affiliated to, I have and continue to give of my best and let my work speak for me. I don’t see this as a challenge, but I see this an opportunity to excel — or let me say ‘slay’ — in my field.”

—Tamsin Oxford

Twitter: @MmakiJ