To mark Africa Code Week, an event that took place in 17 African countries between 1 – 10 October 2015, we hosted a one-day coding workshop organized by STEMbees. Birthed by SAP, Ampion, Simplon.co, the Galway Education Centre, the Cape Town Science Centre and the King Baudouin Foundation, Africa Code Week is a continental initiative aimed at bringing hundreds of coding workshops to 20,000 kids and youth from 3 different age groups (8-11, 12-17 and 18-24). The belief behind this initiative is simple: coding is a new language every child deserves to be fluent in.
Tapping into this belief, one that perfectly aligns with their vision, STEMbees, an organization founded by MEST alumni, coordinated the training and mentoring of 30 high school girls (between the ages of 11 and 14) from St Mary’s Girls Basic School, a Roman Catholic school located in Korle Gonno (one of the low-income communities in Accra). Using Google’s CS First training materials, the girls were able to create animated stories and complete the High Seas Activity with Scratch programming language. Here’s a video highlighting how the day went:
To make this possible, we had support from Google and an amazing group of volunteer mentors, most of which are entrepreneurs-in-training (EITs) and fellows here at MEST. One of these mentors, Isaac Jumba, a Kenyan EIT, wrote about his experience.
Isaac Jumba’s Experience Mentoring at Africa Code WeekEven though that particular day was a day off for the MEST community and was supposed to be a time to take a break from our busy schedules, we were on a mission and our mission was simple: help 30 girls learn to write code using Scratch. If all the participants’ experience was anything like mine, it was such a fulfilling day for everyone involved.
The event kicked off at about 9.15 am with of course, the introductions. What caught my attention was the dream of every girl in the room. “I want to be a doctor”, one said. “I would like to be a fashion designer”, echoed another. Most of them followed this rhythm and in some way, I can understand why none of them said they wanted to be software engineers. What did that even mean to them? At this point during the event, Lady-Omega Hammond, one of the founders of STEMbees, had a mini career talk enlightening the girls on opportunities in technology, with examples of women in tech and what they have created.
The second session, which was the main agenda, introduced the girls to Computer Science and coding using Scratch. We had the girls divided into two classes; each class was facilitated by MEST teaching fellows, Ashwin Ravichandran and Alex Burkhead. Within the classes, the girls were put into teams of three, each team was assigned a dedicated mentor to offer guidance during the session. At the end, each team shared the stories they had created using Scratch. Awesome right? I wish I had this experience when I was 11.
Why was this day fulfilling for me? Well, I learnt a lot. First, the zeal, passion and dedication from the girls to understand code made me realize that we can achieve anything we want to if given the opportunity and the right environment. Secondly, I learnt to listen more. I learnt that for us to understand others better, we need to pay attention and empathize with each other. The workshop also reinforced the importance of teamwork; the event was a success because we worked together.
As the day came to a close, the girls gave feedback on how the sessions were, what they loved the most and what was challenging to them. Most of them talked about the characters they developed and how excited they were when they made their waves and sprites take some action, like moving or speaking.
I would not be sharing this experience were it not for the amazing work done by the organizers of the event. My appreciation and that of other mentors, goes to Tolu Agunbiade, the MEST community, the mentors, STEMbees for giving the girls a future full of possibilities and the Africa Code Week organizers. I look forward to more volunteer opportunities like this.
Thank you, Jumba! We loved having you mentor the girls and we really appreciate your input. Looking forward to more events with you.