Africa Code Week is upon us again. It always feels like I’m in a pendulum between this being the most exciting and the most stressful part of my year.
I think it’s in my blood…in my genes…or wherever these things sit that gets passed down to generations. My mom was a teacher, one of the best that you will ever find. Some of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends, are teachers and principals. I grew up seeing my mom go above & beyond the call of duty as a teacher. She taught Standard 5 (Grade 7 in today’s language) at a school in Manenberg. Often she would arrange hikes for her class, or take them to Kirstenbosch, Cape Town Gardens, or Table Mountain Cableway on the weekends. If she didn’t do this for them, most of those kids would never have the opportunity to go to these places. Many of them would otherwise slip into the shackles of crime and gangs, unaware of the opportunities and beauty that lies in their city. Even up to today, decades later, when we bump into people that she taught they have nothing but praise for her. And she still has the albums with all the pictures, and written explanations of the date and where the pictures were taken.
Bear in mind that at the time, not only was Manenberg a gangland, but the country was also a warzone. This was a time that both my parents, as well as the extended family whose care I was in while my parents worked, were actively fighting Apartheid. I still remember as a nursery school kid we would walk to the main road in the afternoon to throw stones at the casspirs, and as a nursery school kid I knew what to do when the teargas hits. I turned 5 years old on the day my aunt’s husband was killed by the police in the 1985 riots, and I still remember the events of that night so clearly…how as a young newly-married woman with a baby under 1 year old her life changed in an instant. But, I digress…this post is not about that.
Being involved with Africa Code Week since 2016, I have since been exposed to every level of the education system. I’ve been in schools and seen what teachers and principals deal with on a daily basis, I have trained teachers in coding at education conferences, I have stood in front of classes full of children and taught them myself (at primary and high school levels), I have sat in meetings with and presented to Directors of Education at the Provincial Education Department, and I have shared the stage with ministers at glitzy celebration events. Of course there are not many pictures of when we are down in the trenches, but that is where the real work happens and it far outweighs the glam of it all.
I could never be a school teacher. They are a special breed of human that us mere mortals can only but strive to attain to. But I have realised that I am happy and comfortable in front of a class. I love doing it, but I could never do it every day. Being immersed in the system on so many levels just made me realise even more how we should kiss the ground our teachers walk on. They do not get enough credit for everything they endure.
This year my team and I will be taking coding skills into schools exclusively. So we are training up volunteers who will be placed in schools to teach coding during October. We have a massive target and it’s a daunting task. Every single day is a challenge. We could make our life easier by targeting a different class of school, but we’ve have decided not to. Impact is the aim so we want to reach kids who would not have had this opportunity otherwise, and that demographic is much harder to reach and much harder to get buy-in from schools. I wrote my first lines of code at tertiary level while studying engineering. The current generation does not have time to wait that long.
Gratitude goes out to each and every one that is a part of this…the team members, their families, our volunteers, our organisational partners, our allies, our funders, our sponsors, our supporters, and the schools allowing us in and entrusting their learners to us. It’s not a responsibility we take lightly.
On Saturday past we had our first workshop to train trainers. Because nobody in the team was trained yet, I needed an assistant to assist in the (packed) class, and asked my sister on Friday afternoon if she could help…which was pretty much the 11th hour. She came through for us and did a fantastic job in assisting while I instructed. It really takes a village…an African village…an empowered African village, to empower a child and change their life in the digital age.
I will end this post the way I started it… to thank my parents, and our teachers. They raised us in a way that we know no other life but this. Soon after my sister was born my mom gave up her career to look after us full-time. I’m grateful for that, but I am also grateful for the experiences she gave me when I was a tiny little girl, showing me that it wasn’t just about a job, but about truly making a difference in the lives of others.
Post-event update: Our 2019 project ended up being a massive success. We trained a total of 8,300 learners to code in 17 days across 26 schools in Cape Town. Over 50% of that number were females. The video below is a 3-min showcase of the workshop we had for finalists of the coding competition.