In an interview with Cambridge Education this week, Claire Gillissen-Duval discusses how SAP Africa Code Week prepares learners for a more equitable future while highlighting the importance of nurturing our youth with 21st century digital skills, which has the scope to benefit individuals, communities and economies around the world.
What is Africa Code Week’s central mission and how are you achieving it?
At SAP our founding purpose and promise is to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. We connect people and information to address the world’s biggest challenges and improve the economy, the environment, and society as whole. This relationship has guided our spirit of innovation over the last 47 years as we engineer solutions to fuel innovation, foster equality, and spread digital learning and opportunity across borders and cultures.
Hence our passionate commitment towards supporting the UN SDGs, governments, nonprofits and communities in bringing the promises of digital learning where they are most needed, expected, called for.
Our CSR digital skills initiatives include a wide array of program offerings to deliver on this mission, primarily addressing the needs of children, youth and young adults.
Africa Code Week (ACW) is one of them. This digital skills development initiative has benefitted over 4.1 million youth across 36 African countries since it was launched in 2015. As part of ACW, SAP and UNESCO (YouthMobile) are now joining forces with over 130 public, private and non-profit partners to introduce coding skills to 8-16-year-olds with a sharp focus on girl empowerment, build local teaching capacity and facilitate the adoption of digital / coding curricula for sustained impact on youth.
How is ACW equitably preparing learners for the future? Please describe specific solutions.
ACW is not just raising continent-wide awareness of coding as essential 4IR skills as, we are also fostering the rise of an intra- and inter-community culture of lifelong training among students and teachers alike. This is made possible by public-private partnerships, which are the driving force behind the initiative’s ambitious goals and ability to build community capacity in ICT education across an entire continent. With over 50,000 teachers trained and training others across 36 countries since 2015, the initiative is reaching out to more and more urban and rural communities across English, Portuguese and French speaking countries.
ACW commences each year with Teacher Training or ‘Train-the-Trainer’ (TTT) sessions which are key multipliers for digital skills to become a core pillar of basic education in each country. During TTTs, teachers are familiarised with the ACW Digital Learning Programme which is designed in collaboration with pedagogues from Scratch, Code.org and the Camden Education Trust. This programme content can be easily scaled by Ministries of Education and NGOs to complement existing curricula.
The following learning platforms are both used to kickstart and deepen student’s understanding of computational thinking and coding proficiency:
a) Scratch 3.0 is a powerful and playful learning platform developed by the MIT Media Lab to simplify the face of coding for the young generation. Scratch is being used across all ACW participating countries to teach coding to all age groups and levels.
b) Snap is a visual, drag-and-drop programming language that allows you to ‘Build Your Own Blocks’. The programme will be used across 6 pilot countries in 2019 for teens aged 14 – 16 building on their previous Scratch/coding experience to improve their coding competencies.
What skills do learners across Africa need now and increasingly in the future to thrive? Why are these skills needed?
With new technologies emerging and advancing faster than ever and lines of code running every aspect of our daily lives, developing STEM skills is critical to equip young people with both the hard and soft skills they will need to thrive in the future workforce.
As a cross-curricular subject, coding helps kids hone a wide array of essential hard and soft skills, from geometry to writing all the way to critical thinking and teamwork. This is why coding should be taught in schools from an early age, preparing students for a future workforce where STEM literacy and interdisciplinary expertise will be required from them. Learning how to code also helps them develop this “algorithmic thinking” the world will be needing more and more to solve increasingly complex challenges and socio-economic equations. For a coder, there is no such thing as a problem without a solution: they learn how to take risks, not be consumed with failing, be fierce at trying new things, a state of mind that will enable young people to thrive in the 4IR workforce.
Because the digital economy is creating new work opportunities which increasingly require young people to develop new skills and new ways of learning throughout their life, our education systems also need to place emphasis on engendering a culture of lifelong learning.
What region-specific challenges and limitations does/will Africa encounter when attempting to prepare learners for the future?
In this increasingly connected world, we are facing a big paradox : the fact that too many young people remain disconnected, unable to access the quality education they both need and rightfully expect. As for the pace at which technology is shifting the face of everything we thought we knew, it requires us to innovate not just in what we teach, but also in the way we teach it and in the way we reach out to those who wouldn’t have accessed it otherwise.
In Africa, we are continually faced with fundamental challenges whereby not every school has a physical classroom, or desks, computers or even electricity to run the latter. In Botswana for instance, more than 150 children got to see, touch and experience a computer for the first time as part of ACW 2018, all thanks to using solar-powered devices. In some countries we face language barriers, which we tackle by translating the entire ACW materials from English into French and Portuguese for the Francophone and Lusophone regions.
However, our all-inclusive education mission doesn’t just mean bringing the promises of technology to remote areas, it is also about reaching out to children with special needs. In Mozambique, ACW volunteers joined forces with INAGE and Mapal in 2018 to train teachers from special needs schools, who in turn were able to introduce coding skills to hundreds of hearing-impaired students. Another example stems from Cameroon, where sessions were organised for vision-impaired teachers in Yaounde’s CMPJ.
Digital divides not only separate the Global North and South, but also men and women. Empowering girls to seize opportunities through ICT is everything but a nice to have, or a box to tick: our future depends on it. So much so that in 2015, McKinsey’s found that advancing women’s equal economic participation could add USD 28 trillion to annual global GDP by 2025. Girl participation in ACW workshops (46 % in 2018) is a priority for SAP and UNESCO, who are joining forces to strengthen the gender component of the Train-the-Teacher package for ACW.
Why and how is instilling digital literacy and coding skills vital to reducing inequality?
Technology advancements and disruptions are creating unprecedented opportunities. With developed nations’ aging populations and Africa’s youthful population continuing to grow, Africa could become the major labour engine that drives tomorrow’s global economy – provided we join forces to empower young Africans with the right set of skills, and provided that no girl is left behind.
The key here is “joining forces”. When Africa Code Week was born in 2015 and we were gearing up for what sounded like an ambitious goal at the time (engage 20,000 youth from 11 African countries in October 2015), the only thing we knew for a fact was the pivotal role public-private partnerships would keep playing over the years if we were to ignite the passion for lifelong digital learning in both students and teachers. Five years and 4 million youth later, SAP and UNESCO are furthering dialogue with governments to sustain the excitement around 21st century learning across the entire continent. As for the fast-growing Africa Code Week ecosystem, it is living proof that renewing partnerships for the goals are not just a best practice, it is our only viable option to build lasting community capacity and prepare the young generation for tomorrow’s complex world.
For more information about Africa Code Week 2018 results, please visit https://africacodeweek.org/past-editions/2018-results/. For information about SAP Africa, visit the SAP News Center. Or follow SAP and Africa Code Week on Twitter at @sapnews and @africacodeweek
About Africa Code Week
Spearheaded by SAP CSR EMEA in 2015 as part of its social investments to drive sustainable growth in Africa, Africa Code Week is a digital skills development initiative that has benefitted over 4 million young Africans across 37 countries so far. Strong partnerships with the public, private and non-profit sectors are the driving force behind the initiative’s ambitious goals to build community capacity in ICT education across the entire continent. Actively supported by key partners (UNESCO YouthMobile, Google, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Cape Town Science Centre and the Camden Education Trust), 28 African governments, over 130 implementing partners and 120 ambassadors across the continent, Africa Code Week is driving sustainable learning impact to help bridge the digital and gender skills gap in Africa. The fourth edition of Africa Code Week took place in October 2018, benefitting 2.3 million young Africans across 37 countries. Join SAP and partners by visiting www.africacodeweek.org to find out more.
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