June 07, 2017

"Coding is the ultimate 21st-century skill set that every young girl should learn"

Girls at a Tanzanian Code Club learn the computer skills essential to many jobs now

Photo credit: Theirworld / Mticka Almas

Amina Mbarouk Shaaban

Deputy Manager - Education of BRAC Maendeleo, Tanzania

Girls in marginalised communities in Tanzania are attending Code Clubs - safe spaces where they can learn the skills needed in the technology workforce and in their everyday lives.

There will be 1.4 million jobs in computer science by 2020 - and women are currently on pace to hold just 3% of them. 

There aren’t enough people to fill these jobs because technology and the job market are moving much faster than education in our schools and colleges. 

BRAC, with the generous support of Theirworld, is working to change that paradigm by empowering 120 young girls from the ages of 10 to 24 in some of the most marginalised communities in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and teaching them how to code. 

Coding is the ultimate 21st-century skill set that every young girl should learn. In the 20th century, meaningful education was all about learning your ABCs. Today, it’s centred on Alphas, Betas and C++. 

BRAC are empowering young women in some of the most marginalised communities

Photo credit: Theirworld / Mticka Almas

Computer skills are essential even if you’ve already got a non-technical job. 

While most children quickly grasp how to use technology to consume media in a passive way, very few learn how to be active builders of technology, or how to write even the simplest lines of code that power the internet. 

BRAC - through its Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescent (ELA) programme - is working to change that by empowering children to write code, demystifying technology by mastering the building blocks of computer science.

The clubs are a safe space for girls to meet, interact, learn and play while having access to life skills education, livelihoods trainings, comprehensive sexual education coupled with access to family planning interventions, and financial literacy and micro loans. 

BRAC currently has 215 such clubs with a membership of more than 8000 girls in five regions of the country. 

Just as we teach students how to dissect a frog or how electricity works, it’s important for every 21st-century child to have a chance to “dissect an app” or learn how the internet works. 

The idea is that coding is all around us. Any time you turn on your phone or use an app, you’re using coding. So, instead of being a passive consumer of those things, we want to empower youth to be the makers and creators of this technology. 

We recognise how detrimental the digital divide is and how being left out of it means that you’re left out of everything now. 

You don’t have access to information. You can’t get information about politics. You can’t then analyse that information and how it applies to your life. You can’t then make smart decisions when you vote. 

Code Club girls learn how to put together a kit computer

Photo credit: Theirworld / Mticka Almas

On one hand, providing local youth with computer programming and literacy skills ensures that these young adults can begin successful careers and be included in the growing tech economy of the area.  

On the other hand, training local talent gives tech employers access to a pool of talent, right in their backyard. 

The programme facilitates 120 girls and young women from 10 to 24 to learn computer coding using programmes such as Scratch and Pixel Hack. 

In addition, they are able to learn components of a computer, learn about organisation structure and business growth, and strengthen their computer typing skills. 

Girls are learning the inner workings of the technology they use

Neema, a fourth grader at the club, reflected on her experience: “I love my computer classes. I am ahead of everyone else and even teach them when they get stuck.

"It was difficult to type the correct way but I figured out how to do it because the teacher helped. I learned how to do animation, about Minecraft, I can now make my own games.”

Being digitally literate goes beyond just using and consuming technology - it is a much broader skill set.  It is using technology but also having an understanding of how that technology works. 

At the BRAC Code Clubs we believe it even goes a step beyond that to having the skills to produce new technology.

That means youth not only being expert users of smartphones but also understanding their inner workings and having the skills to develop new technology, especially for the unique challenges their communities face. 

Children having access to this kind of technology and skill set  is critical.

The BRAC Code Clubs have caught people’s attention. As the Finnish people celebrated their 100 years of independence, they initiated the "Code Bus". 

Learning to write even a few lines of simple code is a big step forward

Photo credit: Theirworld / Mticka Almas

CodeBus Africa is a 100-day adventure into creative technology and youth empowerment that takes local youth on an adventure into the world of creative technology. The journey consists of 50 fun and exciting one-day workshops .

When the Code Bus passed through Tanzania, 80 of the ELA girls were cordially invited to participate in the workshop. It was an exciting day for them as they learnt how to create music and beats using code. 

The innovation hub Buni, which hosted the CodeBus, is currently working towards ensuring that the girls who are receiving training also get linked to the market for jobs linked to coding. We are hopeful for the future.

The time to act is now. We must recognise that digital literacy not only includes being a proficient user of technology but also having an understanding of how it works and skills to create new technology.  

With an accurate understanding of what digital literacy is, and why it matters, we as a country can then collectively support greater accessibility to computer science and digital experiences.

Students as young as 10 are learning elements of modern computer coding languages, exploring how logic-based commands power the internet and software applications - all in a fun environment that also helps spur developmental growth. 

By introducing computer science basics in a format that’s fun, accessible and relevant to the youngest and most marginalised learners, BRAC Code Clubs seek to ignite young minds in all the possibilities of the future.

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