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Girls who code - Students at Clan Carthy Primary learn to master the craft through tablets-in-schools programme

Published:Monday | December 14, 2015 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Grade-six students Shanique Buckley and Kelisia Phipps are a picture of concentration during Clan Carthy Primary School’s observation of Hour of Coding Jamaica – International Girls in ICT, at the Kingston-located school last Thursday. Both 11-year-olds were among the 25 students involved in the Jamaican Girls Coding Programme, which was initiated in 2014.
Julian Robinson, minister of state in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, speaks with students Lumaya Fuller (left) and Leonie Facey at Clan Carthy Primary School in Kingston.
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TWENTY-FIVE GRADE-SIX students at Clan Carthy Primary School in Kingston on Friday gave Julian Robinson, state minister for science, technology, energy and ministry, some insight into the different ways they use Internet access to do research for homework, play educational and other games, as well as keep in touch with friends and relatives in Jamaica and across the world.

After some prodding from Robinson, some of the girls admitted that they do prefer to play games but were able to convince him they do have an appreciation for how the various information communication technology (ICT) applications can enhance their learning.

Tablets in hand, the 11-year-olds demonstrated their skills at creating computer games and other uses, demonstrating a level of competency which impressed the minister.

"Well, actually, creating different games and a website. It's been fun so far and I really get to experience the games before anyone else," head girl ShadÈ Service told The Gleaner when asked about her use of the tablets.

"Well, we just have to find a code or a sequence of how the game is supposed to go, the order in which you want it to go," the 11-year-old continued when asked about creating new games.

Her classmate, Leonie Facey, is looking well ahead in terms of the practical applications of her ICT knowledge.

"When I grow up, I would love to own a business using, so ... it's like a dream of mine to own a business, using computers to further the world," she shared with The Gleaner.

The confidence and budding expertise of these two youngsters seem to justify the view of principal Sheldon Richards that Clan Carthy Primary's participation in the Jamaican Girls Coding Programme since last year will prove to be a game-changer at the individual and national levels.

 

Very high expectations

 

As an initiative of the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, through which girls, especially, are being encouraged to become actively involved in the male-dominated field of technology, he has very high expectations.

"Many times when we access the technology, we normally use it at the lower end, which is just to interface with whatever we have in front of us. Now, our children are being taught to create the codes, to create the programmes that all others need to do whatever work.

"It is a big step up. It is a big step up because they are now better able to be creative. Now the idea is that through this, our students will eventually start designing games, designing programmes, with the hope that they can create companies," Richards disclosed.

"So we appreciate it, and who best can design educational games than the children themselves? They know what they want and so even if it is just the initial stages, we do really do appreciate it," he continued.

Since Clan Carthy Primary's involvement in the tablets-in-schools project, the educator admitted that it is extremely difficult to get some students to value the devices for their educational usage over the recreational application, but the school has made a serious effort to help them to appreciate constructive uses.

He explained: "It's a battle difficult to win because there are times when students have the tablets or the laptops accessing the Internet without supervision. So we do have some very strong rules as it relates to use of tablets on the compound.

"While we allow students to play games, we are saying educational games. If it is non-educational, it is not allowed, and in such cases, students who are found doing this, we confiscate the tablet for a day, and if there is a second occasion, we confiscate for a week, and after that, it's for the term. So our students now, they find games that are legal for them to use."

The technology state minister's visit to Clan Carthy was a result of its participant in the Hour of Coding, a global week of activities with an emphasis on encouraging more young people to get into the discipline of computer coding. This is essentially a system of signals used to represent letters or numbers that make up the instructions written in a totally foreign computer language by computer programmers.

Robinson explained Jamaica's participation in the programme.

"We have had a programme called Girls Who Code, which specialises in young ladies, primarily between the ages of 12-15, to encourage them to get into software development. The reason is that there is a big gender imbalance in the computer technology industry in the sense that the coding profession probably has about 90-95 per cent men and very few women," he said.

"So part of the exercise we are doing today, which is a continuation of two summer camps that we actually ran, is to expose young ladies to what is involved in coding and to see whether they would see that as a career."

Like the Clan Carthy Primary principal, Robinson is also very optimistic about the uptake from the programme and the potential for impacting development.

"What we would want is if for some of them to develop solutions to problems which may exist in Jamaica and use that as a platform for creating solutions to other problems - both regionally and globally. So it's about empowering of young women, its about exposing them to a profession that they may not have thought of, and it is also about trying to reduce the imbalance in the ICT industry."

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com