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Ten Things to Know About Africa Code Week

October 5, 2017 by Eric Mutema 11

Africa Code Week is the story of hundreds of schools, teachers, governments, and nonprofits getting together to bridge the digital and gender skills gap in Africa. The goal of Africa Code Week is to empower the young generation by teaching the coding skills they need in order to thrive in the 21st century.

“By learning the new language of coding in an open, supportive environment, young Africans are able to take advantage of the immense opportunities presented by the digital revolution and become active players of the global economy”, says project leader Claire Gillissen-Duval.

So, what makes Africa Code Week interesting?

1: To Fill the I.T. Skills Gap

Africa has the largest and youngest workforce in the world, yet many companies present on the continent today are struggling to fill I.T. related positions with a local and qualified workforce. Currently, only one percent of African children leave school with basic coding skills. Africa Code Week aims to boost a continent-wide initiative to foster digital literacy, and to spark the interest of African children, teenagers, and young adults in software coding. Around 89,000 young people across 17 African countries received basic coding training during the inaugural Africa Code Week back in 2015. This number keeps growing, thus equipping more and more young people with skills they need to venture into software development and other related careers in the industry.

2: Coding is Everywhere, and Essential in Many Industries

Many professions are affected by coding. Anything from science to engineering, to banking, insurance, financial services, healthcare, law, communications, and even art depends on it. It’s not only that they are using computers; Healthcare depends on software for its imaging technologies in order to share knowledge and patient data for improved care. Many artists know how to code to create compelling pieces with technological elements, whether it be for a display of lights or an interaction with an audience. There is a need for coding in virtually any industry. Here are some aspects which make it so essential:

Coding is Creative

Anything on the web is coded, and there are many, many creative websites out there- from eye candy to multi-sensory experiences. Coders created all that.

Coding Generates Value

Don’t just think apps; instead, think how big data improves business processes everywhere and reduces waste for example.

Coding is Problem Solving

Software is often where risk mitigation and problem solving happens in most environments. Coding is taking big problems and breaking them up into small, tractable chunks.

Coding is Intellectually Stimulating

Whatever endpoint you are trying to reach, coding takes the destination and builds in a step-by-step journey. Each step is a little achievement on its own. With each little problem solved, there comes the rewarding feeling of making tangible progress. It’s a hugely satisfying positive feedback loop. Also, coding means always learning new things: new technologies, environments, and new ways of solving problems.

Coding is a Skill Within Itself

If you can code, you are more resilient in a fluctuating job market. Because coding is not industry-specific (there are some specialisations, sure, but coders always learn new things), a coder can go where there are more opportunities if an industry is struggling. People who can code are more flexible and potentially have more fun at work, as well as more choices in industry.

3: Africa Will Soon Have the Best Programmers

In the near future, the best programmers will come from Africa. It’s a bold claim, but here is why: if it works here, it works everywhere. Africa has a myriad of challenges- power, bandwidth, cost of data, cost of infrastructure, intermittent connectivity, lack of foreign trust, etc. However, those challenges drive optimisations. African codes are more efficient, more resilient, more secure, and more economical in power and data because they need to be more robust in our environments. It is also a very real and important skill. This is why locally-developed value will benefit the whole world. Therefore, in the very near future, African kids will take the world by storm.

4: The Celebrity Factor

In the past, SAP has partnered with celebrities for celebrity coding challenge. Some of the celebrities include: international musician Loyiso Bala; Bafana Bafana footballer Simphiwe Tshabalala; International beach volleyball player, Sheana Abrahams; President of the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, Rebecca Sykes; Miss RSA International, Shajar Khan; Mrs Globe, Riana Mooi; former TV presenter, Gerri Eldson; South African actor, Jet Novuka; Mr. South Africa 2014/15, Armand du Plessis; Celebrity Chef and TV personality, Yudhika Sujanani; Elizabeth Arden make-up artist, Gina Myers; celebrity plastic surgeon, Dr. Reza Mia; former Miss South Africa, Bokang Montjane; former Miss South Africa, Joan Ramogoshi Madibeng; Lions rugby team players Robbie Coetzee and Howard Mnisi.

Through the simplification of what has historically been perceived as a highly technical arena, SAP is making coding more appealing and accessible to a wider audience. Through the celebrity coding challenge event, global coding experts mentored and coached the celebrities as part of a global Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) internationally skilled volunteering program.

The ultimate goal of the Celebrity Charity Coding Challenge was to involve people who would normally have no exposure to coding, other than consuming applications on mobile devices or computers. Coding is relevant to all industries in the 21st century and, as a result, skills need to be constantly updated. SAP believes “by sharing skills and knowledge, we will empower people to take control of their futures”, commented Mehmood Khan, COO of Sap Africa.

5: It’s easy to get involved

Africa Code Week will happen from October 18, including thousands of free coding workshops taking place across 35 countries and online. Involvement is structured through different age groups.

8-11 – This one is for the basic skills. It will be based on ‘Scratch’, a popular system by MIT. This system has been adopted by millions of young learners worldwide, because it fosters youthful curiosity, promotes creativity, and provides a basis for lifelong programming learning. Scratch is designed especially for ages 8 to 16, but is used by people of all ages. Millions of people are creating Scratch projects in a wide variety of settings including homes, schools, museums, libraries, and community centers. Africa Code Week offers thousands of physical workshops that use Scratch for this particular age group to introduce them to coding. A live map is offered for easy location of the workshops. For those who can’t make it to the physical workshops, there is the Africa Code Week: Teaching Programming to Young Learners online course on openSAP. This course consists of 4 video lessons. After each video, learners can take a self test to gauge whether they have understood everything. If not, they can go back and watch the video again. There are also some basic exercises to help learners design and create computer games. Six hours are needed to complete the course.

For the workshops, there is no need for technical prerequisites or previous computer experience. For the online course, access to a computer with internet connection is needed. The lack of fast internet connection is mitigated by the ability to download the Scratch system and its content. The workshops and online courses are offered free of charge.

12-17 – This age group gets most of what 8-11 gets, plus a little bit more. The participants need to be involved for about 6 hours of courses based on ‘Scratch’. Afterwards, there is an exam to gauge the skills learned.

18-24 – This is the master class, and it offers an introduction to Web Technologies (HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP, SQL). The workshop gives a good understanding of a typical website architecture (e-commerce, blogs etc), while teaching how to create a fully operational and mobile-friendly website. The course content involves understanding the capabilities of a Web Application Server and how to build one from scratch, deploying and configuring an open-source Content Management System, leveraging extensions to jumpstart a productive website rollout, connecting the website to a database using a dynamic scripting language (PHP, Javascript), and using the SQL language to interact with data. The duration is about 3 hours, and by the end of the course, students should be able to set-up their own dynamic, customized, mobile-friendly website. Before they take the course, participants need to have a basic understanding of web browsers and HTML, a few programming basics, and an overall desire to learn.

6: Variety Of Partners

Africa Code Week has several partners working together to ensure that it is successful. The key partners are SAP, UNESCO YouthMobile, Cape Town Science Centre, and Galway Education Centre. The first partner, SAP, is a market leader in enterprise application software that helps companies of all sizes run better. UNESCO YouthMobile is a new initiative by UNESCO that builds on the experience of many worldwide initiatives that introduce young people to computer science programming (learning-to-code) and problem solving (coding-to-learn). It also seeks to build on experiences to target young women who are vastly underrepresented in this field. Finally, it builds on the consideration that for millions of young people, the smartphone in their pocket is a very powerful computer. For some, it will be their only computer, and they use it for nearly every aspect of their lives: communicating, learning, taking pictures, and playing games. With this new initiative, UNESCO and its partners strive to provide young people with the high-level skills and confidence to develop, promote, and sell locally relevant mobile apps that solve local issues of sustainable development and provide employment.

Cape Town Science Centre, which is another partner, has more than 250 interactive science exhibits and mind-boggling puzzles. It is a truly a world of discovery under one roof. In addition to the hands-on displays, the CTSC offers a variety of attractions including: science shows, curriculum based hands-on workshops, holiday programmes, science camps, science theatre, travelling exhibitions, hands-on experiments, excursions, experiential driven programmes, Saturday learner enrichment school, robotics workshops & tournaments, chess workshops & tournaments, Science Out Loud popular science talks, maths and science exam preparation lessons, educator enrichment workshops & educator forums, computer courses, and mini-exhibitions on topical science events. The Cape Town Science Centre has partnered with countless organisations, educational NGOs, and Provincial and National Government departments. They have also worked with some international organisations in highlighting the importance of the Science Centre as a platform for the delivery of science and technology learning, along with the importance of collaboration for the greater good. As a member of the Southern African Association of Science and Technology Centres (SAASTEC) and Cape Town Tourism, the CTSC operates under the auspices of the Interactive Science Foundation NPC (RF)- a registered Non-Profit Organisation and Public Benefit Organisation.

The fourth key partner is Galway Education Centre. It is one of a network of 21 Education Centres under the remit of the Department of Education & Skills in Ireland. The core work of the Centre is the provision of continuing professional development (CPD) for the education community in the Galway region. The centre organises a programme of courses, conferences, communities of practice, and IT training each school year to support newly identified researched needs. The centre also focuses on creating opportunities for young people in Engineering, IT, Robotics, Science, Entrepreneurship, Mathematics, and the Arts. The model they have developed to achieve this involves genuine partnerships with industry and other education partners to create programmes that will benefit the next generation. This includes building teams to work on projects with companies such as SAP, Medtronic, EA Games, HP, Accenture, LEGO Education, Microsoft, Dell, Intel, SOS Ventures, and SketchUp.

In addition to key partners, Africa Code Week also has primary and strategic partners which include Google, openSAP, Scratch, and Syntec among others. There are even network partners spread across different countries in the continent.

7: Half A Million Youth Engaged So far

With 426,000 young Africans introduced to coding in the year 2016, not to mention 10 governments and hundreds of partners on board already, Africa Code Week is living proof that public-private partnerships are the key to driving sustainable change in the digital age. This vision is fully in line with the African Development Bank’s conclusion that “the scale of the youth unemployment problem in Africa requires bold, ambitious approaches (that leverage) strong partnerships to bring coherence and scale to youth employment interventions across the continent”.

8: It’s an Award-Winning Initiative

Africa Code Week has been able to bag a few awards throughout its existence. In February of this year, it was awarded Philanthropist of The Year by the Community Foundation of Ireland. In addition, it was awarded the Judges Choice Award from the MIT Inclusive Innovation Competition in September 2016. In March 2016, Africa Code Week was also recognized as Education of The Future at World Communication Forum, Davos.

9: Empowers Thousands of Teachers

Africa Code Week is focused on mobilizing the collective efforts, expertise, and resources to deliver joint education priorities. Every year, SAP sends skilled volunteers to targeted African countries to train thousands of teachers that will, in turn, train their peers and students. This model provides a sound, scalable structure for inter-group knowledge sharing, as well as being able to unlock people’s potential and create a desire to serve as resources for each other.

10: Encourages Literacy

By fostering interest in creative computing through hands-on, interactive, fun learning, the Africa Code Week Initiative has been able to spread digital literacy across continents and shape tomorrow’s highly skilled workforce in a powerful way. As a result, tech savvy men and women are now eager to drive social and economic development in a digital world that changes at the speed of light.

The same way that proper food helps our body grow and stay healthy, education is the most fertile soil for personal development and future economic growth. Nelson Mandela once said that “Education is also the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”, which ultimately translates into increased income, reduced poverty, and a more peaceful society.

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