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Technology

Coding lessons turn teachers, students into app developers

Teachers learn how to code last year during the
Teachers learn how to code last year during the Africa Code Week. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Thomas Munga never touched a computer until when he was in university. During those days, computers were still a preserve of students taking computer-based courses.

However, when he cleared university, the wave of technology had arrived and was disrupting every industry including his.

“During our (university) training, computer was not part of the units. When we came out of the university, we had to quickly learn technology including simple things like sending emails,” said Mr Munga, 44.

The teacher who majored in biology and agriculture attended seminars and short courses to delve into the computer world. Driven by curiosity and enthusiasm, he decided to take his learning further by participating in a programme that train teachers on coding.

Last year during the Africa Code Week, Mr Munga was among more than 150 teachers from Coastal, Western and Central regions of Kenya who learned to code as a way to expand access to STEM —Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — and computer science education.

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The gathering was a group of teachers of all ages, all of them tech enthusiasts keen to drive innovation and participate in nurturing creativity in schools.

The teachers were introduced to coding using Scratch language.

“I had the basic computer skills but coding was like a foreign thing to me. I did not know what it meant. During the training I discovered that we were being taught to kind of come up with a computer program and a lot of other things,” he said.

Learning to code isn’t easy, but with mentoring and dedication, he said anyone can learn it.

“I can do some coding though I may require more supervision and instructions. But I learnt that anyone can be a programmer, they can learn how to come up with a website and to code,” said Mr Munga.

At St Charles Lwanga Secondary in Mombasa, a mixed day school with a population of 900, where Mr Munga teaches, he is determined to make sure his students have the chance to learn coding.

“I have taught about 15 students on how to code using Scratch. I did not get such an opportunity when I was in high school, and I do not want my students to miss out in the same way I did,” said the teacher.

In the neighbouring Changamwe Secondary school, a highly charged rally is taking place as the school gears up to hold its elections. Unlike the past polls where voting was done manually, this year the school has adopted an electronic system.

Although the school does not offer computer studies as a subject, Linah Anyango has pushed for students to learn coding.

Being the head of science department, she wants them to envision computer science as a career option early on in their education.

“I used to see coding and robotics as a domain for a few talented people. But now I know anybody can try it out. We were trained using Scratch but we have explored other coding languages. I am also interested to know Python programming language,” she said.

Seeing the student’s excitement for the lessons, she has encouraged them to build mobile applications.

“After I learnt how to code I trained 200 students. The coding sparked an interest in them. Some of the applications they made include a danger alert app that helps to fight insecurity, Book Net to link book buyers with bookshops and ‘myfirstjob’ where one can contact artisans,” she said.

This, she noted, has encouraged her students to see that science and tech careers are not rocket science.

“The coding has led to increase in number of girls taking physics. In 2016 I had nine candidates taking physics and all were boys. In 2017 the number increased to 12 and last year it increased to 32 and more than half of these students are girls,” said Ms Anyango noting that coding is the new language every learner should know and be fluent in.

“We have learnt English, Kiswahili and French among others. Now we must learn coding language,” she said.

“If coding is the fulcrum of technological innovations, learning it will break so many barriers in terms of development.”

Okuba Vincent, an English teacher at St. Teresa's Girls' Secondary , said some of the 102 students and 12 teachers he has trained are now able to program fluently.

Ruth Kaveke, Director of Pwani Teknowgalz in Mombasa and an Ambassador of Africa Code week, said technology can help Africa solve its problems.

This year, 1,000 teachers in Mombasa, Kwale, Malindi, Kilifi, Kisumu, Kakamega and Vihiga are learning how to code and will teach the same to students.

“Aisha Abdul-Qadir and I are among the ambassadors of the Africa Code week. We have partnered with different organisations including Swahili pot hub and Jielimishe so that we can reach as many people as possible,” said Ms Kaveke.

Africa Code week is an initiative by SAP, global software firm, to instill digital literacy and coding skills in the young generation.

“Coding is giving computers specific instructions to produce an expected result. Most software are a result of coding,” she said.

When the teachers are skilled, they are able to train the students, she added.

“We are aiming that each teacher we train will introduce at least 60 students to coding. We will give the teachers the software and the students can continue to work on the projects after the code week,” she said.

Most importantly, she said if coding is learned at a young age, it becomes a life skill.

“Students will grow interested in it as they progress. In the near future, kids who have learned to code from a young age will excel easily in any field they choose and and be innovative,” she said.

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