Local woman brings coding skills to marginalised communities

2016-11-05 09:09
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Cape Town - A local woman trained over 1 000 young people in basic coding skills in and around Cape Town in nine days, as part of this year’s Africa Code Week (ACW) initiative.

Rogeema Kenny is a Cape Town engineer, author, motivational speaker, and activist aiming to bring digital literacy skills to marginalized communities in the greater Cape Town region.

Her interest in coding started at university, where she studied electrical engineering. Coding formed part of the curriculum.

“Back then, there were no easy ways to code: we had to sit for hours every day, and if there was a problem with the code it would sometimes take days to find it and fix it. It wasn't very user-friendly - you really had to be determined to even consider a career in coding.”

She was inspired after attending an ACW train-the-trainer coding workshop at the Cape Town Science Centre.

"When I saw Scratch for the first time, I immediately noticed its potential for teaching coding basics to children and beginners of all levels in a fun, interactive, and simple way. The coding concepts weren't new to me, but the way it was taught was completely revolutionary.”

She decided to become part of ACW and take basic coding skills to Cape Town residents. Her aim was to train 1000 people, but she realised she needed help.

ACW is a continent-wide initiative intended to get children, teenagers, and young adults interested in software coding. It took place between October 15 and 23 this year. Software company SAP started it in 2015, as part of its corporate social investment.

To make Kenny's ambitions a reality, she took the project to The Hope Network, an organisation dedicated to awarding scholarships to talented female students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

She said there was a “natural alignment” between ACW and The Hope Network. They partnered with the Sakhikamva Foundation, found trainers and venues, trained volunteers, installed the necessary software, conducted marketing to secure bookings, and got back-office operations up-and-running in record time.

They applied for and got a Google micro grant. The recipients had to commit to training 100 or more children during this year’s ACW.

Kenny’s connection with Google started when she spent a month in Silicon Valley, working at some of the world's top tech companies.

For Kenny, the bigger picture is seeing more talented girls enter STEM fields.

"I'd love to see people changing their perspective on coding and to start getting their foot in the door with this exciting field, especially among women.”

She believes initiatives like ACW make digital literacy more accessible. The aim is to ensure Africa's success in the global economy.

During the 2015 ACW, over 89 000 young people were introduced to coding across 17 countries in 10 days. The goal had been to train 20 000.

This year, thousands of coding activities were organised in 30 countries, and online. This year's aim was to engage 150 000 youth across Africa to write their first lines of code.

The target for 2016 was expected to be exceeded. The results would be released in the third week of November.

Over the next 10 years, ACW aims to empower more than 200 000 teachers and touch the lives of five million children.

Read more on:    cape town  |  technology

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