Why teach teenagers Programming?
In 2004, frustrated by the volume of animal classification and botanical names I needed to memorize, I asked my High school biology teacher:
Why is biology a compulsory subject? I’m a mathematics person. Why are we trying to fit everyone into one shoe size?
She laughed, looked me in the eye and gave me a response that won my heart.
Innocent, Biology is the study of life. When you hold your breath to find out how long you can go without air, or pluck a flower to see how its petals are arranged, you are already studying biology. We are only here to teach you what others before you have discovered. One day, you’ll find that you will be able to make better decisions about what to eat, how to live and who to associate with just by your knowledge of biology.
Was she right?
Today, whether it’s the percentage of saturated fat, dietary fiber, cholesterol or protein in food, or it’s personal hygiene and choice of habits, I find myself constantly turning to my foundational knowledge of biology.
How does this relate?
The alarms that wake us up, the tools with which we plan our day, our interactions with friends and colleagues, automations in business processes, you name it. Almost everything we do either already has a touch of technology or the potential to be overtaken by it.
Gradually computers are becoming inseparable from our daily lives.
We took the study of life seriously. Why not do the same for the study of how computers work?
Everywhere around us the quality of output in every sector is improved by introducing computers to the mix. Wired Inc predicted in 2015 that 47% of the jobs in the US could be automated within the next decade. I didn’t find any Africa-specific prediction, but I doubt those numbers are relatively far behind.
We need to do better than telling teenagers who Ada Lovelace was, or what ‘www’ stands for.
So … right back at you. Why not programming?
What is teencode?
Teencode is a movement to build the foundation for the next generation of Africa’s tech leaders by teaching teenagers to code.
At a high level, success for us would be building a system where the Computer Studies curriculum used in High Schools is fully supported by professional developers in the field.
Our plan to achieve this is very simple: first we work with schools to develop the right curriculum content, then mentor High School computer teachers to deliver the content right.
How did we start?
Planning started in November 2016. We needed:
- An army of developers who would volunteer to commit to this mission. (Great developers are almost always ‘very busy’).
- Schools to partner with who would be willing to assign at least one teacher, a computer laboratory and a chunk of students’ time.
- Sponsorship to cater to logistics.
One of the perks of working at a company like Andela is the company’s mission and values (of excellence, passion, integrity and commitment) is sewn into everything. In less than two weeks items 1 and 3 were knocked off the list.
We had over 76 Andelans from both Lagos and Nairobi who were willing to commit 110% towards making Teencode successful.
Andela officially signed on to cater to the financial and logistics needs of both the pilot and execution phases.
Getting partner schools proved to be the not-so-easy part. Nonetheless, after a pilot phase in March, we officially kicked off in May with 14 schools and 236 students in both Lagos, Nigeria and Nairobi, Kenya.
What would the rest of the year look like?
For (at least) the next three months, our volunteer facilitators would go into schools to teach students once a week or twice a month.
During this period, we hope to understand how best to deliver the knowledge to teenagers in a way that would be effective and scalable to schools across Africa. One of our successful outcomes of this phase would be a public curriculum tailored for High School students.
We are forging relationships with teachers who love what we are doing, where we are going and are willing to go there with us. We want to make sure that by working with us, teachers build their knowledge of tech and see small ways to improve their own daily lives with the skills they pick up.
At the end of the three months (or longer, depending), our ‘Understanding’ phase would sunset and our ‘Mentorship’ phase would roll out fully. By then, the curriculum would have gone through countless iterations and be ready to be used by schools/teachers in locations we might not be able to physically reach.
The mentorship phase would see us focused on building a support community to make it easier for any school that want to take advantage of this opportunity, teachers who want to become facilitators and students who are going through the program to receive further guidance.
How might this impact the continent in the next five years?
Teaching Biology in High school didn’t reduce the need for doctors. No. Instead, medical educational institutions could assume a foundational knowledge of classes of food and go ahead to teach about microbial bipolymers and polymerase chain reactions. Needless to say, it improved the quality of doctors.
We see a future where an 18 year old Arts student can write a few lines of code that help her mom transform records in excel sheets into a beautiful printed report.
We see our Computer Science students going ahead to partake in Space Technology or make a dent in the world of Virtual Reality with their accomplishments.
We see an improvement in the overall quality of life, as more Africans are empowered to use readily accessible resources to create solutions to everyday problems.
There is a lot to be done if we want to get to where we need to be as a continent. We can’t do everything, but everybody can do something.
Teencode has a goal of reaching 100 schools and 1000 students by the end of the year. We haven’t done this before. We are literally building the plane as we fly it.
If you’ve got some tips on tutoring, operations and scaling, ideas on partnerships, sponsorships or just general supportive goodwill messages, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit teencodeafrica.com/contact-us.
We’ll be happy to hear from you.
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