Free programmin­g clubs are tak­ing WA by storm

The West Australian - - INSIDE COVER - An­gela Pow­nall

Sophia Ce­bis can barely con­tain her ex­cite­ment as she talks about her pas­sion in life: com­puter cod­ing.

Jump­ing up and down on the spot, the 10-year-old clasps her hands to­gether as she ex­plains how CoderDojo has changed her life.

It’s a re­ac­tion that many teach­ers can prob­a­bly only dream of elic­it­ing out of their pupils about learn­ing.

“Be­fore I went to CoderDojo, I didn’t know any­thing about sci­ence and all those things like programmin­g,” she says. “Now I’ve made new friends and I know all about it. I love it. All the men­tors are so nice. It’s awe­some.”

Sophia’s fa­ther Martin says math­e­mat­ics was not her strong point be­fore she joined CoderDojo two years ago and be­came a “ninja”.

“CoderDojo has given her a lot more con­fi­dence at maths be­cause she has leapt ahead of the other chil­dren who don’t go to CoderDojo,” he says.

CoderDojo is a global net­work of free, vol­un­teer-led and com­mu­nity-based programmin­g clubs for chil­dren that is tak­ing the world by storm, and nowhere more so than WA.

Dojo comes from the Ja­panese word mean­ing tem­ple of learn­ing, while Coder refers to the cod­ing which makes it pos­si­ble to cre­ate com­puter soft­ware, apps and web­sites.

CoderDojo be­gan in 2011 when James Whel­ton, an 18-year-old coder in Ireland, at­tracted pub­lic­ity for hack­ing the iPod Nano. As a re­sult, some of the younger stu­dents at his school in Cork showed an in­ter­est in learn­ing to code.

Mr Whel­ton set up a com­puter club at the school and started teach­ing chil­dren basic HTML and CSS cod­ing. Later that year he met Aus­tralian en­trepreneur Bill Liao, who lives in Ireland, who de­cided to join Mr Whel­ton in ex­pand­ing the project af­ter see­ing its pos­i­tive im­pact.

Over the past five years, CoderDojo has spread like wild­fire across the globe. In WA, 87 do­jos have been cre­ated in just three years. CoderDojo WA says the State has more do­jos than any other re­gion in the world.

WA’s rapid take-up of CoderDojo has been spurred on by the Fog­a­rty Foun­da­tion, a group which pro­vides schol­ar­ships and ed­u­ca­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties and set up the first do­jos in the State and now sup­ports oth­ers to do so.

“We felt dig­i­tal lit­er­acy was really im­por­tant and it was an es­sen­tial skill go­ing into the fu­ture that young peo­ple needed so that they could cre­ate their fu­tures,” ex­ec­u­tive chair­woman An­nie Fog­a­rty says. “When we started three years ago, it wasn’t really on the school agenda. It is now, which is great. But we still def­i­nitely see there are op­por­tu­ni­ties for other peo­ple to gain skills in this dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment.”

CoderDojo is fill­ing a gap in many schools, which are strug­gling to catch up with the fast-mov­ing world of tech­nol­ogy. Dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy is not yet on the school cur­ricu­lum, which crit­ics say is putting Aus­tralia be­hind other de­vel­oped coun­tries.

Last year, ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ters en­dorsed the lat­est cur­ricu­lum for pub­lic schools, in­clud­ing — for the first time — dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy ed­u­ca­tion and learn­ing how to code for ev­ery pupil.

The new cur­ricu­lum won’t come into ef­fect in WA un­til 2018, with the Gov­ern­ment and schools work­ing to pre­pare teach­ers for its in­tro­duc­tion.

But CoderDojo is not seen as an ex­ten­sion of school — far from it. While most WA do­jos are based in schools, many are in li­braries, com­mu­nity cen­tres, uni­ver­si­ties and cor­po­ra­tions.

The first, and only real, rule of CoderDojo is “be cool”.

“It should be fun and en­gag­ing. It’s very much about self-dis­cov­ery, not so much about us teach­ing you to code but us en­abling you to be able to teach your­self how to code,” Ms Fog­a­rty says.

The nin­jas, who are aged seven to 17, use code-writ­ing pro­grams that are avail­able free on­line, such as Scratch and Python to cre­ate games. They can also learn HTML, CSS and Javascript to write web­sites.

CoderDo­jos can also pro­vide the op­por­tu­nity for those with a knack for elec­tron­ics and tech­nol­ogy to chal­lenge them­selves and thrive.

Ge­or­gia Al­mond saw that in her 12-year-old son Lewis when he was in Year 3. She got him a pri­vate tu­tor and took him to sci­ence fairs, but it was only when they dis­cov­ered CoderDojo that Lewis’ nat­u­ral flair for tech­nol­ogy took off.

“He can fix the com­put­ers at school for them. He has so much more con­fi­dence now.

“He un­der­stands what a com­puter is for, not just a toy,” she said.

“He doesn’t play games. He cre­ates com­put­ers. CoderDojo helps to bring it out of him.”

Lewis, who wants to be an en­gi­neer or a NASA space pi­lot, spends his time build­ing ro­bots and small com­put­ers in the ad­vanced group at Curtin Univer­sity’s dojo.

Ms Fog­a­rty hopes the fun and ex­cite­ment of CoderDojo will one day trans­late into WA suc­cess sto­ries.

“They’re not just users of tech­nol­ogy. They’re cre­ators of tech­nol­ogy. That’s fantastic for the young peo­ple them­selves and also hope­fully for the econ­omy,” she says.

It’s very much about self-dis­cov­ery. Fog­a­rty Foun­da­tion chair­woman An­nie Fog­a­rty

Pic­tures: Danella Be­vis

Sophia, 10, and Peter, 8, with their fa­ther Martin Ce­bis.

CoderDojo teaches chil­dren vi­tal skills and im­proves con­fi­dence.

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