Every child should learn digital skills because even social workers, nurses and policemen will need them in the workplace. Christina Kennedy investigates
Children as young as four can start doing computer coding, even without a PC. In one activity, for example, they help “Flerb” get through a maze to an apple by using arrows to instruct the character where to go. Although this may seem unremarkable, the child is actually creating a simple algorithm or set of instructions that forms the basis of computer programming.
Another “unplugged” activity requires a child to place commands in the correct order to plant a seed; another lays out the steps to make a paper aeroplane.
This “programming with paper” shows that you don’t need a computer, let alone the internet, to get your child dabbling in computer science and learning critical thinking skills, says Lindiwe Matlali, founder of nonprofit organisation Africa Teen Geeks.
But having a smartphone or a tablet is a good place to start.
And once children find out how they can solve tricky problems, create their own games, emojis and apps, and even figure out ways to improve on the design of existing games, many just can’t get enough of this form of playful learning.
According to Google’s Made With Code website, which aims to kindle a love of science and technology among teenage girls, code is a tool that lets you write your story with technology. It helps you communicate your ideas with a computer or program so they can be brought to life in creative ways.
One of the organisations bringing that ideology to practical life on local turf is Africa Teen Geeks. It wants to inspire and train Africa’s new generation of technology innovators, with a focus on “girl geeks” and disadvantaged youngsters.
“Not everyone will be a computer programmer, but every child should learn digital skills because even social workers, nurses and policemen will need them in the workplace,” notes Matlali.
Her Geek Clubs offer free computer science classes on Saturday mornings at Unisa’s Florida, Sunnyside and Parow campuses, for children from Grade 1 to matric.
From April 1, they will also be running Saturday classes in five community centres and 10 schools across Mpumalanga.
Talks are under way to expand their offering in Tshwane and, by year-end, these go-getting geeks could be imparting computer science skills to about 70 000 children throughout the country.
Parents can bring their children to one of Unisa’s 24 computer labs around the country between July 5 and 9 for the organisation’s computer science week, where they’ll be taught the basics of coding – considered one of the 21st-century workplace’s essential skills.
This culminates in its Festival of Code computer science competition in October.
Their volunteers can also train teachers how to introduce coding at their schools – especially those township schools where donated computers are gathering dust, but also at schools with no PCs. Children can learn