The Silicone Savannah (the technology ecosystem created in Kenya) strikes again — not with a new technological innovation this time. Rather, with technological education.
On 5 August 2022, incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the country-wide roll-out of the coding curriculum in Kenyan primary and secondary schools in collaboration with Kodris Africa.
During his speech at State House, President Kenyatta acclaimed that Kenya becomes the first country in Africa to approve coding as a subject and critical skill of study within the official national curriculum.
This move comes in light of Kenya’s 2022 to 2023 Kenya National Digital Master Plan that aims to foster the growth of ICT innovation, its regulation and the growth of related businesses within the country.
Moreover, the Digital Literary Programme (DLP) created within the National Digital Master Plan hopes to equip 20 million kenyans with the relevant digital skills to effectively operate within the digital economy. As such, the coding curriculum will help create jobs for the youth who will have built this skill set by the time they complete high school.
Evidently, this is a major milestone and some are left wondering “What’s next?”, “Will it work out?”
A few years back I came across a young girl who was the daughter of a well-off family. She was quiet and often kept to herself the first time I met her. I was always curious why she was on her phone at such a young age. As it turns out, she was practicing her coding, at the young age of 10, an age when computers were a luxury for me. Her mother illustrated that she was enrolled in an online coding program for children and had since become obsessed with it. How curious. Yet, so impressive.
So, “Why coding?” There are many more answers to this question today than there were 15 years ago.
Coding language works with zeros (0) and ones (1) in strings that translate to computer language and triggers the processing of specific tasks. One of the popular coding languages is Python.
The Kodris Africa website claims that its coding curriculum aims to equip students with algorithmic thinking skills, productivity, analytical thinking, problems solving skills and design thinking skills.
A 2021 research study among children from ages 2 to 4 years concludes that many of them were able to gain skills in communication, collaboration, planning, logical thinking and problem solving. This was done through play activities that would teach the children basic computational thinking skills that would lead to the development of programming and coding skills.
Benefits of teaching coding to children
1) Coding seamlessly introduces children to the new digital era. Children today have open access to digital devices and the internet. Most are on gaming and social media sites but are curious as to how they work. Most do not have the answers to this. Children can now actively participate in activities in creating programs and online applications rather than consuming content.
2) Coding can help children transform their future. The narrative that one must be a doctor, lawyer or engineer to be deemed successful is a long gone narrative. Participants in the tech world are more than active contributors to our daily lives. Who would have thought we would ever have telemedicine or even doorstep food delivery simply by using our phones? Children who learn coding will develop creative solutions that will shape the future of their respective communities. They provide a fresh outlook on life that could benefit humanity. In addition, these children can develop their skills over time and generate income streams at a younger age than we adults had the opportunity to.
3) Coding has the potential to break gender bias. Teaching all children coding equally deconstructs the gender bias that has persisted in the world. For example, the notion that STEM courses are more for men than for women. On the contrary, we know this is not the truth, yet, this mindset has been passed from our elders to the youth. Introducing a coding curriculum to children from primary school through high school instills the belief that STEM subjects are for everyone and not just for a particular gender.
As Peta Clarke, Technical lead at Black Girls Code, once said:”Now we’re in an age where technology is mandatory, and we wanted young girls to have this understanding and know-how to build an app.”
4) Coding opens the doors to the world. Coding is a global language and one who understands it can travel anywhere in the world to apply it. Coders are part of an international community. Children who learn to code can effortlessly join this community and interact with people from around the world in order to network and collaborate. Consequently, this improves their career prospects by not limiting their job opportunities to those within their country of origin.
An interesting venture but we need to put in the work
Kenya’s review of its education syllabus is a great step in making education today relevant for children. After all, we cannot keep learning how to use an abacus or how to read a sundial when those days are long gone. Coding education presents unique opportunities for employment and boosts the country’s digital economy.
That being said, there is much to be done now that the coding syllabus has been approved. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s term is coming to an end with an ongoing Supreme Court contention on the win of the President-elect, William Ruto. Nevertheless, Kenya’s upcoming President, together with the Minister for ICT, must put in the work and find the best way to integrate coding education to better position the kenyan youth for global participation.
For one, the government must follow through on the promise to provide children with access to computers or tablets in order to effectively learn to code. It would also be impractical to expect children in rural areas to actively and equally benefit from this upcoming syllabus where their schools have no access to electricity, desks or even lunch in some cases.
We need to revamp our schools and ensure that all children in public schools are starting from an equal level rather than introducing a coding syllabus to children who would rather sell their school-provided tablets to get money for their family’s next meal. Finally, the government must also train teaching staff and adapt them to this new subject.