Coding in high schools takes shapeMonday July 25 2022
Anne Muthoni, a Form 3 student, is passionate about cardiology and hopes to build a user-friendly machine that will monitor the heartbeat.
“I am looking forward to inventing and using technology,” says the student of St Ann Suresh Raga Girls High School in Thika.
“I have a passion for computers. The coding experience has been informative, especially knowing that I could use different subjects to do something very big,” she says.
Anne, Agape Mutua and Psalms Hendy, are among 42 girls at the high school doing coding. Coding in Kenyan schools is gradually becoming part of the curriculum as parents and teachers hope for better job opportunities in the digital economy.
Already, the government is piloting a new coding syllabus in 100 primary and 50 secondary schools, all public, in the race to be at par with their peers in international private schools.
As organisations globally become more tech-focused and data-driven, programming is now key. Developers have also become the new gem for recruiters and companies, in all sectors from healthcare to education, with Kenya becoming a fertile hunting ground.
A survey by Google in February shows that demand for African computer software developers reached an all-time high in 2021 on the backdrop of a global economic crisis. Kenya, Egypt, South Africa and Tunisia each added at least 2,000 developers in 2021, while Nigeria’s developer community grew by 5,000, a six percent rise from 2020. Morocco had 3,000 new software developers.
An interview of 1,600 software developers by Google found that 38 percent of African developers work for at least one company based outside of the continent.
This has seen more schools in Kenya integrate coding classes as part of the curriculum or introduce coding clubs. St. Ann, for instance, began a coding programme in 2019 as part of school clubs.
With the help of software engineers from Strathmore School of Business, the students are taught programming, web designing in HTML and python- a programming language.
“When we started the programme, it was first time for some students to see computers. They have always thought computers are just for big schools, in Nairobi. They have come to appreciate and expect positive impact in their lives,” said Peter Kinyanjui, in charge of mentorship programme.
Another school aiming to churn out the biggest school computing programmers in Kenya is M-Pesa Foundation Academy. It runs a science, technology and engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) and coding programme which started in 2016.
Students are taught about innovations and the use of technology in everyday activities, however, over time, it has evolved into a rigorous module-based from basic, intermediate to advanced levels where it introduces learners to self-paced coding and prototyping courses.
Students can choose to learn courses like coding, robotics, product design, hardware programming, app technology and drone technology amongst others.
The academy targets children from humble backgrounds unable to further their education after the primary level and offers an International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum with career-related programmes. The students are allocated an hour and a half weekly to pursue their STEAM module.
“When we first started the programme, we were running it as a club. Due to growing interest and the positive impact, the programme is now open to all learners,” said Ken Ronoh, STEAM co-ordinator, IB and business and technology education council (BTEC) educator.
Educationists believe coding is an essential skill. Coding skills help students improve in logic and problem-solving, expected to give the students an edge, especially those that have an interest in careers such as law or medicine.
“In the course of the module, the learner will have done rigorous inquiry, and research, learns how to express their ideas, master the design-thinking to the problem and experience the hands-on skills. As a result, students who receive a quality STEM education are primed to become the next generation of innovators,” adds Mr Ronoh.
Other countries such as the UK and the US have integrated principles of computer programming in their curriculum for children from the age of five or six, when they start primary school. In the US, former President Barack Obama launched Computer Science for All, an initiative aimed at giving every pupil from kindergarten to high school programming and coding skills “that make them job-ready on day one”.
With companies looking to automate almost all their work processes in future, they will have a ready pool of employees to hire. According to World Economic Forum in 2020, 80 percent of companies planned to accelerate the automation of their work processes over the next five years, while half are set to increase the automation of jobs in their company.
The pandemic has also led to increased adoption of digital-based models to cut costs.
The M-Pesa academy training, for instance, is designed to spark the 21st century and experience emerging technologies.
“The knowledge and discussions we learn in coding workshops give us the ability to solve real-world problems. Our most recent completed project was on mitigating too much noise in our environment,” said Galo Linzy, IB diploma programme student says.
“We came up with software that alerts individuals in offices and manufacturing plants of too much noise, hence reminding them of managing noise levels or using appropriate protectives at work. Coding lessons introduce us to computer science and robotics where we also learn the art of effective research and creative thinking,” the 17-year-old said.
Teachers also see coding skills as supporting other subjects.
“STEAM gives curious students the skills to tackle problems confidently and facilitates a more positive feeling about learning, and greater self-confidence in students. Technology-based modules, often involve hands-on projects. Building a simple robot, Arduino system, or computer programme often involves multiple steps that are completed over a duration. In the process, the students learn how to manage their time and break larger projects into smaller steps,” Ms Linzy.
“Students who choose coding mostly undertake computer science as a subject and they end up being the best performers in sciences and maths because coding helps in improving creativity,” added Regan Gichuhi, a computer and mathematics teacher of St Ann Suresh Raga Girls.
However, the coding classes come with extra costs for the schools.
“When the programme started, our computer lab was not well-equipped but thanks to the coding class, we have enough capacity of computers and the internet. It has been a benefit to students and teachers,” added Mr Kinyanjui of St Ann Suresh Raga Girls, which is supported by I &M Bank Foundation.
Some modules such as coding and app technology are affordable such as TinkerCAD, a platform where students design products, code and simulate hardware, and Thunkable, a coding platform to create cross-platform applications.
“At the academy (M-Pesa), we have incorporated many modules, some of which had huge financial impacts. These include Additive engineering and the use of CNC machines for product actualisation. Learners are also exposed to artificial intelligence, a module that involves the use of programmable Arduino hardware and its sensors,’’ added Alan Adlington-Corfield, the executive head of the school.
An acute gender gap however still exists in the field, with women commanding only 15 percent of Africa’s developers ecosystem.
“There is a perception that starts at a young age. But I think it is changing and more girls are opened to learning STEM,” said Lydia Mbegera, a Scrum Master (a framework for developing and gaining value from the adoption of solutions in a complex environment, with an initial emphasis on software development).
In Kenya, the ICT Authority is piloting the coding syllabus- the Kodris syllabus from Kodris Africa.
“We are excited to be part of Kenya’s journey of deepening digital literacy and preparing young learners to become architects of the digital age where they can be producers rather than merely consumers or bystanders in this unfolding digital space,” said Kodris Africa CEO Mugumo Munene.