National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

CodeMakers, Executive Director: Dr Justin Yarrow


CodeMakers, Executive Director: Dr Justin Yarrow


Inspirational code for the next generation

White males in lab coats using instruments in a chemistry lab. That’s what most children imagine scientists to be. They’re perceived to be possibly mad, certainly socially awkward, with crazy hairstyles. These are some of the stereotypes that non-profit organisation CodeMakers are trying to correct with their SuperScientists programme. 

CodeMakers Executive Director Dr Justin Yarrow started SuperScientists in 2019, aware that children’s early experiences with science are important influences on their perception of science and of their own potential to become scientists. The initiative focuses on building positive science identities and so to foster interest or persistence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

SuperScientists creates materials for children that depict scientists as superheroes — activity books, calendars, cards and posters. In 2021, 15 000 cards, calendars and activity books were distributed to young people across South Africa. Many have been translated into isiZulu, and translation into more South African languages is planned if funding is received. “Having science education materials in a child’s mother tongue makes them more accessible, but more importantly it shows them that the ideas and questions that they have in their minds, in their own language, are ideas and questions that matter and can be answered. It brings them and their curiosity into the conversation of what science is and who can be scientists,” says Yarrow. 

He says that the reaction to SuperScientists has been incredibly satisfying, beyond what he had imagined. “One of the scientists in the project spoke to a tearful person who told her that when she was growing up, she thought that only white men could be scientists, and that now with these materials she can show her children that anyone can be a scientist. We’ve heard from people that have said, ‘if only I had these when I was a kid, maybe I would be a scientist today.’  And at school visits we’ve seen learners excitedly comparing the characters they received with each other. It’s a very positive project and just great to see people enjoying it as much as they do.” 

Current projects include efforts to further extend SuperScientists’ reach into under-resourced schools. They include a travelling exhibit that could reach children through science centres, libraries and malls. “This project was inspired in part by the trading cards that used to be given out at supermarkets, and it would be amazing to see scientist cards at supermarkets or spaza shops and reach kids in deep rural areas,” says Yarrow. — Elaine Williams

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