Young Africans brush up on the ‘language’ of coding

Africa Code Week promotes coding and ICT skills of children in African countries. Here, children of the Kliptown Youth Project work on computers in October 2012 in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa. (Muntu Vilakazi, Gallo)

Africa Code Week promotes coding and ICT skills of children in African countries. Here, children of the Kliptown Youth Project work on computers in October 2012 in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa. (Muntu Vilakazi, Gallo)

You know you are witnessing something special when targets and goals are given as multiples of earlier figures: double this, quadruple that. This was the case at the launch of Africa Code Week on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Africa meeting in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, on Tuesday night.

Software multinational SAP, which is leading the project, announced that it expected to double the reach of the programme this year, from the 89 000 young people who were introduced to computer code last year.

Who knows what might happen to that multiplier, since last year’s target had been to train 20 000 youngsters in programming. In the event, nearly four times as many were trained across 17 countries in 10 days.

Africa Code Week is supported by hundreds of partners including African governments, nonprofits, nongovernmental organisations, educational institutions and businesses such as the Cape Town Science Centre, the Galway Education Centre, Google, Ampion, the King Baudouin Foundation and Atos.

With the tagline: “Coding is a new language. Every child deserves to be fluent”, the programme’s aim is to foster digital literacy and equip the continent’s rising generation with job-relevant digital skills.

Jean-Philbert Nsengimana, Rwanda’s minister for youth and information communication technology, said that literacy should go beyond just knowing how to read and write, even beyond knowing how to use a computer and basic digital literacy.

“Basic literacy for the next generation should be about coding,” he said.

In addition to drop-ins from a number of government and business leaders gathered in Kigali for the WEF Africa meetings, the launch of Africa Code Week was attended by more than a few of Africa’s hottest young things in the world of coding. 

And who better to entertain Africans on the cutting edge than popular South African house music act Mi Casa? Word on the street is that the band does more for the programme than provide entertainment, playing a role in training too.

In a statement, SAP said the long-term goal of Africa Code Week is to “empower more than 200 000 teachers and positively impact on the lives of five million children and youth over the next 10 years”.

Africa has the fastest growing digital consumer market in the world and the largest working-age population. Yet, according to SAP, African companies are scrambling to fill positions with people that have the right digital skills.

It is estimated that less than 1% of African children leave school with basic coding skills.

SAP noted that Rwanda is an excellent illustration of how investing in ICT skills can transform an economy. The country is overcoming its difficult past and is emerging as a regional high-tech hub that is creating enormous opportunities for its rapidly growing young population.

Africa Code Week workshops for teenagers will be based on Scratch, a learning platform developed by the MIT Media Lab to simplify coding. Participants will learn coding basics and how to program their own animations, quizzes and games.

Older students will be introduced to web technologies, giving them a basic understanding of web architecture and how to build a fully operational, mobile-friendly website. 

— African News Agency

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