How kids can learn cod­ing – free of cost

With 1,100 clubs in 63 coun­tries of­fer­ing free cod­ing classes to chil­dren, CoderDojo is hop­ing that units come up in the UAE so kids get a chance to learn soft­ware skills. By Anand Raj OK

Friday - - In The Uae -

The ‘oh wow’ mo­ment I ex­pe­ri­enced at CoderDojo? asks Giustina Miz­zoni. There’s a brief pause in our tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion as the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at CoderDojo Foun­da­tion in Dublin, Ire­land, seems spoilt for choice as to which in­ci­dent to share with me.

‘It has to be the time last year when two young CoderDojo boys built a prin­ter that punched Braille char­ac­ters.

‘Then there was an­other group that built an anti-bul­ly­ing app; yet an­other built a phone that doesn’t re­quire a net­work con­nec­tion to work. ‘It’s when I see such kids and their cre­ations that I re­alise the kind of im­pact CoderDojo has on the com­mu­nity and chil­dren. It’s re­ally solv­ing a prob­lem. Those were mo­ments you feel re­ally good.’

An in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity of soft­ware pro­gram­ming clubs – or do­jos, a Ja­panese term that loosely means train­ing place – CoderDojo of­fers free pro­gram­ming classes for young peo­ple be­tween the ages of seven and 17.

‘Put sim­ply, any­one in this age group can visit a dojo where they can learn to code, build a web­site, cre­ate an app or a game, and ex­plore tech­nol­ogy in an in­for­mal, cre­ative, and so­cial en­vi­ron­ment. The aim is to help young peo­ple re­alise that they can build a pos­i­tive fu­ture through cod­ing and com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pa­tion,’ says Guistina, an avid techie who joined CoderDojo as the first em­ployee in Jan­uary 2013 and now over­sees its pro­grammes and op­er­a­tions.

Set up in 2011 by James Whel­ton, then an 18-year-old coder who re­ceived some pub­lic­ity af­ter hack­ing the iPod Nano, and Bill Liao, an en­trepreneur and phi­lan­thropist, CoderDojo was an al­most overnight suc­cess.

It all be­gan af­ter the iPod Nano in­ci­dent when James’ pop­u­lar­ity soared and sev­eral stu­dents from his school wanted to learn cod­ing. So he set up a com­puter club in his school in Cork, Ire­land, and started teach­ing stu­dents ba­sic HTML and CSS. So pop­u­lar was the club that it led to the first CoderDojo – at National Soft­ware Cen­tre in Cork – af­ter Bill of­fered to pro­mote the project.

Re­al­is­ing the pop­u­lar­ity of the cen­tre and keen to share the CoderDojo for­mat, James and Bill de­cided to open-source the model. ‘This way, any child any­where in the world could take the knowledge, share it and repli­cate it,’ says Guistina.

From one in Ire­land, CoderDojo to­day has 1,100 ver­i­fied do­jos in 63 coun­tries with new do­jos mush­room­ing al­most ev­ery day. While about 60 per cent of the do­jos are in Europe, there is a size­able num­ber in Ja­pan, Aus­tralia and North Amer­ica and a cou­ple in Saudi Ara­bia. ‘We would like to see more

in the Mid­dle East and def­i­nitely a few in the UAE,’ says Guistina.

So, what hap­pens at a CoderDojo ses­sion?

‘Typ­i­cally we start a dojo with a warm up ac­tiv­ity,’ says Guistina. ‘It could be any­thing – a gi­ant game of rock, paper, pen­cil, scis­sors… The idea is to get peo­ple talk­ing and re­laxed.’

Next step, chil­dren and men­tors – vol­un­teers who coach them on cod­ing – pick up from where they left off from the pre­vi­ous week and start work­ing on their projects. ‘At the mo­ment we are work­ing on a lot of An­droid apps at our dojo in Dublin but there are ses­sions where chil­dren will be hack­ing away at hard­ware is­sues too,’ she says. ‘We aim to help young peo­ple re­alise that they can build a pos­i­tive fu­ture through cod­ing and com­mu­nity.’

CoderDojo has nine full time staff to sup­port global ini­tia­tives and to cre­ate con­tent and up­date re­sources, and more than 7,000 vol­un­teers that in­clude men­tors and sup­port staff. ‘About 60 per cent of our men­tors are peo­ple who work in the IT in­dus­try and they are in­cred­i­bly pas­sion­ate about cre­at­ing these kind of ops for chil­dren,’ she says.

‘But you don’t have to be tech­ni­cally qual­i­fied to be a men­tor. You can, for in­stance, help to or­gan­ise and ar­range things and sup­port the dojo.’

‘We are also keen to at­tract a lot of women men­tors so that it will at­tract a lot more girls to the do­jos. At the mo­ment there are not enough in this field,’ she says.

About 60 per cent of our MEN­TORS are peo­ple who work in the IT in­dus­try and they are IN­CRED­I­BLY PAS­SION­ATE about cre­at­ing these kind of OP­POR­TU­NI­TIES for chil­dren, says Giustina

Any­one in the age group of seven to 17 can visit a dojo where they can learn to code, says Giustina of CoderDojo Foun­da­tion

The aim of a CoderDojo is to help young peo­ple re­alise that they can build a pos­i­tive fu­ture through cod­ing and com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pa­tion

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