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
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