CRACKING THE CODE TO THE DIGITAL FAST TRACK.
Free programming clubs are taking WA by storm
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.
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
Sophia, 10, and Peter, 8, with their father Martin Cebis.
CoderDojo teaches children vital skills and improves confidence.