This article was originally posted on the Tech North website.
Volunteering for, and even hosting, a Code Club is a great way for tech businesses to inspire the next generation. These weekly clubs, held after school or during school holidays, teach children aged 9-11 how to program and make coding fun. They learn to understand and solve problems through making computer games, animations and websites.
Across the north, businesses are getting involved –encouraging staff to volunteer for an hour a week to set up regular Code Clubs in schools. It’s a way of not just giving back to the community but also supporting the next generation to develop a deeper understanding of technology, creativity and problem solving skills. In less than a decade these tech-literate children will be our customers, our workforce, our CEOs, our entrepreneurs.
Arlene, for example, is a teacher at Manchester-based hosting company UKFast. For her, setting up UK Fast’s Code Club is an extension of the company’s ongoing commitment to training: they offer their team a wealth of training and have a significant apprenticeship scheme with guaranteed jobs at the end.
“We want to inspire kids younger and younger to get into IT and show them the amazing careers available,” says Arlene. “We’ve started small with our Code Club – our latest one had 17 children – and so far we’ve done it by word of mouth, opening it up to our team, their friends, family and neighbours.”
There’s also a big push to get more women into the industry with organisations like Dynamo North East pointing out that only 8% of those taking ICT at A-level last year were girls. Arlene agrees, seeing the initiative as an important way to inspire girls to get into technology. At UKFast’s last Code Club, 14 of the 17 children were girls. “I remember the gender divide when I went to school,” she says. “Techy subjects were mostly boys and just a couple of tech-savvy girls. Now we’re saying ‘girls, you can do this!”
A typical Code Club session might include making a simple game using MIT’s free programming language Scratch. This is simple, visual and playful – if a child is old enough to read and use a mouse or touch screen they can code in Scratch. The results are immediate and so compelling that adults will be grabbed by the possibilities too. With more time and volunteers, kids can progress into Python and HTML / CSS.
Officially code clubs are aimed at ages 9-11 but Arlene thinks it’s important to be flexible about age: “Our youngest was nearly seven and our oldest was a teenager who returned and helped teach the younger ones. Scratch Junior on the iPad is aimed at children as young as five. As soon as children can walk they can use technology.”
It’s a fine metaphor for Code Club: helping the next generation to learn to walk in the digital world… so that one day they can run.
If you’d like to set up or volunteer for a Code Club in the North of England, there are three fantastic Code Club regional coordinators that can help match volunteers to schools, and make the whole set up process simple. If you would like to inspire and support the next generation by running a Code Club, get in touch with Coral Grainger; email@example.com at Tech North who will be happy to help make it happen.
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