Coding schools programme encourages youth to code despite Maths challenges

A new technology social impact programme, called WeCode24 is re-examining the way computer science is taught by shifting attention away from the notion that it requires advanced, university level maths skills, and focusing on the elements of play and creativity.
Digitisation is transforming not only our personal lives, but also our workplace. A common concern from the majority of corporate employers in a recent McKinsey[1] report was the lack of skills of entry-level applicants and graduates who were inadequately prepared for the world of work.
Most occupations — an estimated 60% —as we know them, will become absorbed by technological advances and will change. The people who will be employed — at both entry level and senior positions — are those who are able to understand and adapt to the digitisation of the workplace.
Technology creates new income possibilities.
The number of individual (as opposed to corporate) jobs created by digital platforms is increasing. Every day, more people are looking to become part of the “gig economy”. With it comes a need not only for new digital platforms but also the need for people to staff and manage these platforms. And that’s where coding skills become important.
For many youth, however, access to these skills is difficult - let alone acquiring a sufficient grounding in the basics of coding to move into a digital career. WeCode24 provides an entry point, initially by challenging the assumptions regarding coding skills, and then by demonstrating the potential it offers for the future.
WeCode24 was launched in 2017 as a pilot project at four historically disadvantaged  Western Cape schools to provide learners from Grade 8 to Grade 11, who had little or no maths skills, a chance to learn to write code. It is now expanding to more schools and aims to reach more than 500 greater Cape Metropole learners in 2020.
The initiative is the brainchild of Professor Rachel Jafta, from Stellenbosch University’s Department of Economics, and aims to show those with the talent and interest, the opportunities that could be open to them if they acquired basic coding skills. Rachel is  chairperson of the Media24 board and also a director on the Naspers board.
Rachel commented that too many children were missing out and not learning computer coding skills for a number of reasons, including a scarcity of resources in public schools, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). But, more importantly, that we need to move beyond the confines of STEM and teach children how to apply technology and digitisation. That is what WeCode24 aims to do.
“Writing computer code should be seen more like a creative process than harnessing a technical skill,” said Rachel “It’s not necessary to be good at maths or to approach code as if it was a pure maths problem.”
On Monday, 25 November, a two-hour, hands-on demonstration of this approach took place at the call for participation launch event, in Cape Town. All guests were encouraged to take along one curious child between the ages of 10 and 18 years as their teammate.
The project is a partnership between the Stellenbosch University’s economics department, Naspers, who is the funder of the project, and Media24, who will provide digital internships for the pupils to further develop their skills.
Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa, Chief Executive Officer, South Africa of Naspers, said the project is aligned with the vision behind the group’s social impact initiative Naspers Labs, that seeks to empower disadvantaged youth through upskilling them for the jobs of tomorrow. To date more than 1500 youths have passed through the programme with 79% of graduates securing their first job.
“We should be exposing young people to the changing environment in such a way that they understand how they, with their different perspectives and diverse backgrounds, can tap technology and become part of it,” she said.
The course focuses on text-based programming, using Python, a general-purpose programming language, combined with Turtle Graphics, a method for creating graphic images.
To the novice this sounds intimidating however, at WeCode24 we aim to create a culture where passion, curiosity, and wonder are the drivers of learning,” said Rachel. “Programming — learning to code — also enables you to acquire and construct knowledge by yourself — learning how to learn and learning how to create. At the launch today, the children coded a design to print on t-shirts and mugs, as a practical example that enabled them to realise what they can accomplish on their own.”
WeCode24 believes programming is an empowering skill to learn because programming is diverse and powerful and enables young people to add value to almost any area of life — for example by creating art or games, building spaceships to explore the galaxies, or designing smart cities that look after their inhabitants.
WeCode24 invites all under-resourced schools in the Cape Metropole and Boland areas who are interested in joining the programme, free of charge, to send an email to [email protected] by 15 January 2020. The name and contact details of the school should be included, as well as a brief overview of the school, motivating what it would mean to the learners to participate in this programme.
For more information contact:
Shamiela Letsoalo
Media Relations Director, Naspers
[email protected]
+27 78 802 6310