On cod­ing

Ev­ery child should learn dig­i­tal skills be­cause even so­cial work­ers, nurses and po­lice­men will need them in the work­place. Christina Kennedy in­ves­ti­gates

CityPress - - Voices -

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

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