Jamaican Girls Learn to Code

Graduate of the Jamaican Girls Coding 2014 Summer Camp, Aleeka Cherrington (left), is presented with a certificate of achievement by Director of GSW Lorna Green (centre), and General Manager, Productive Business Solutions (PBS), Michael Lewis.

Twenty girls, age 12 to 14 years, from schools across the Corporate Area, have been exposed to the exciting world of computer programming, following their participation in the inaugural Jamaican Girls Coding 2014 summer camp.

The programme, which ran for one month, not only sought to expose girls to the “fun side” of coding, but also aimed to address the significant gender gap within the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector.

Throughout the four weeks, the girls were taught various techniques including how to build their own websites using programming language html; animation methods; and the creation of software applications (Apps).

They were also exposed to the various methods of animation creation by instructors at the GSW Animation Inc., including animation techniques such as 2D, 3D, sand, and clay.

The girls were presented with certificates and tablets, during a graduation ceremony held last Friday, August 22, at the Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO) New Kingston offices.

Twelve-year-old Nastassia Walters said while the programme was difficult, it was also an exciting and fulfilling experience.

She said she felt privileged to be exposed to a field that is mostly male dominated, as this showed her that she has the ability and opportunity to pursue any career path she wants.

“The programme challenged us, as females, to equip ourselves and to transform our dreams into reality. It also showed us that, as females, we can be more visible in a sector where the female role is diminishing,” she stated.

In further describing her experience, Nastassia noted that, “at first, it was somewhat challenging; but as we progressed it became much easier and fun. I can say that coding is very difficult, because you have to give the computer the correct instructions or it wouldn’t work.”

For 12-year-old Nastascia Virgo, the programme was also “an experience of a lifetime”, which she said helped to open her imagination and expose her to new technologies.

“We learned how to use a programming website called Scratch. This experience was really fun, but stressful. For some of us we started with easy games and simple stories, but gradually transformed them into well developed game apps with different levels and animated stories,” she told JIS News.

Nastascia said they were also introduced to the animation software programme, Toon Boon, which they used to create their own animated solar system.

“It wasn’t as easy as it sounds, as we had to do some calculations to ensure that the planets orbit the sun correctly,” she explained.

In the meantime, Minister of State in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining (STEM), Hon. Julian Robinson, charged the participants to establish coding clubs in their schools and to tell their peers about all the skills they learned during the summer programme.

“This is not the end of the road as with this kind of privilege, comes responsibility. I want to ask you to lead coding groups in your schools and to demonstrate to other students what you have done over the four-week period,” he stated.

Mr. Robinson said the vision is to build ‘Girls Who Code’ clubs in several high schools across the country, starting with the participants’ schools and those institutions that are a part of the Tablets in Schools project.

For her part, Minister of State in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Hon. Sharon Ffolkes-Abrahams, congratulated the organisers for developing such a “ground breaking” programme.

She noted that the summer camp was a great start, as it not only exposed girls to computer programming – a field dominated by men – but it also recognized that entrepreneurial skills must be instilled in the youth of Jamaica from an early age.

“We want to see more of our women becoming programmers and coders who develop applications that present solutions for our country,” she said.

The State Minister said, given that ICT continues to be one of Jamaica’s fastest growing industries, there must be a stronger effort to encourage the country’s youth, especially girls, to choose careers in ICTs and to move away from mostly support functions into creating their own ideas.

Approximately 14,000 persons are employed to the ICT sector in Jamaica – a figure that is expected to grow by an additional 3,000 over the next three years, according to Mrs. Ffolkes Abrahams.

President of Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), Diane Edwards, said the goal was to implement a programme that would inspire, educate, and equip girls with a solid platform in computing skills for future career possibilities.

She said it is important to expose more females to this growing field as, globally, women represent only 12 per cent of all computer science graduates and make up only 25 per cent of the computing workforce.

Ms. Edwards also encouraged the participants to view the past four weeks as an important investment in their lives, noting that they have a responsibility to build on what they have achieved, and to use it to give return on the investment.

“Don’t let these experiences go to waste. The sky is the limit. Consider a career in ICT – it’s growing, it’s a technology-based industry, and the future is really bright,” she stated.

Director for Safety and Security in Schools, Ministry of Education, Coleridge Minto, said the programme was timely as it coincided with the Government’s $1.4 billion Tablet in Schools pilot project.

“This is the right time for such a programme, as they are being exposed with the right skill sets… to prepare them for the 21st century opportunities ahead,” he pointed out.

For her part, Manager, Special Project, JAMPRO, Marjorie Straw, said both the public and private sectors have a responsibility to ensure that the country’s youth are exposed to new ideas and technologies that increase their options to compete more effectively in the global market.

“There is no limit to what a child can do if knowledge is shared,” she said.

Ms. Straw further emphasised that there is no rule that says a child has to be of a certain age to find solutions to problems or issues affecting his/her community or to have a good business idea.

She is, therefore, encouraging the girls to “dream big dreams and then do the work that needs to be done to achieve those dreams, knowing that you have everything you need within you to reach of the stars.

The inaugural Jamaican Girls Coding 2014 summer camp was organised by the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), in association with the Jamaica Coalition of Service Industries (JCSI), and facilitated by JAMPRO.

Published Date: 
Thursday, August 28, 2014