Aug 2017 1st Edition

Teaching girls computer code ignites futures

written by Sulaiman Philip

Woman's Month

A non-profit computer science training centre is inspiring Africa’s future generation of technology entrepreneurs and innovators to reach for the stars.

Participants in an African Teen Geeks hackathon. (Photo: African Teen Geeks)Lindiwe Matlali doesn’t believe that not having a computer should stop you from learning how to use one. Or even how to code.

The founder of Africa Teen Geeks believes if you have access to a computer, you can find free online tools that will teach you how to code. If you don’t, then you can use Matlali’s innovative approach to learn Python, a computer language.

“We have already created a platform called Knit2Code, on which we teach young girls Python using knitting. They learn to write a Python code for the South Africa flag and a scarf. This is what we call computing without a computer to remove the barriers for disadvantaged children who do not have access to a computer or the internet.”

Matlali believes we need to motivate children, especially young girls, to see themselves as creators of technology and not just consumers. “Our focus is to raise their aspirations to not only be content about knowing how to use technology, but to create it.”

African Teen Geeks bridges the gap between understanding that technology matters and the lack of computer science education in schools. Matlali teaches not just coding but how to use technology to make a difference. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, she says, is one way that South Africa can meet and beat the youth unemployment challenge.

“If they are innovative, they will not join the unemployment lines but will create employment for themselves and their communities. We want to inspire a generation that doesn’t aspire to be employed but rather to be game changers and trailblazers.”

Since 2014, African Teen Geeks has taught 38 000 children to code. Matlali’s NGO has also developed a teacher training programme that offers courses and coaching for teachers who want to introduce a coding curriculum at their school.

The teacher training courses began when Matlali noticed how many donated computer labs had turned into white elephants because there were no qualified teachers. “Our courses are designed to ensure lessons are taught well, both in theory and practice.”

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