How Africa’s youth can become superheroes: Learn computer science

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Malagasy children learning coding basics on the CoderBus, a mobile computer lab that brings computer science to children throughout the country. Malagasy children learning coding basics on the CoderBus, a mobile computer lab that brings computer science to children throughout the country.

Computer science is a superpower. With coding knowledge, a little funding, a few laptops and their creative brains, a small team of African developers could create the next big thing. Why not? A billion downloads of an app or a game easily happen once you get the right formula. 

Regardless of professions, coding knowledge has become an essential skill nowadays. The more African kids learn coding today, the more competitive they will be in the business tomorrow. It’s a must. 

In 2014, we started our very first CoderDojo  in Madagascar, joining the global movement to give free, volunteer-led, community-based computer programming initiation to kids ages seven to 17. Our classes are based on cartoon animations and videogame creations on Scratch, a free visual programming language developed to help simplify programming animations, games, and more. Kids find fun in it and become autonomous after as few as six mentored sessions. 

We started roughly, borrowing laptops from mentors and parents. Classes were hosted by Habaka, a leading innovation hub of that time. Luckily, we got noticed and supported by Airtel Madagascar, andby the time our first semester started, we were gifted with 15 laptops, accessories and unlimited Internet access. We could then accommodate up to 45 kids per session and could also start giving sessions on Internet-awareness and Internet of good things to the kids. 

After a year, we remained the only active coding club for kids in the country. We failed in inspiring other community leaders to help them start their own local coding clubs. We were also limited to the hundreds of kids from nearby compounds. 

So, we had the idea of the CoderBus, a bus transformed into a classroom, driving mentors, computers and coding knowledge to kids within local communities.  

In 2015, we received our first 60-seat bus and diesel for downtown trips from the Edgard Razafindravahy Foundation, whose president is the godfather of the CoderBus. The foundation donated a second bus in 2017. 

With the help of Sahaza Marline, CoderBus co-founder and president of STEM4Good, we handcrafted the Coderbus, installing tables and wiring. We finished pimping out the bus in one day and one night. 

We organized our first trips within the capital city of Antananarivo, visiting schools in underserved communities. In 2017, we started hitting the national roads on an East-West axis, visiting the provinces of Toamasina and Majunga. Funded by Facebook, we were able to introduce Free Basics in Madagascar, a social networking services company that brings affordable access to selected Internet services to developing countries. By the end of 2018, we reached an overall total of 4,000 kids. Recently, mentors from our community started a viable coding club for kids in the province of Fianarantsoa. 

If we can reach thousands of children in Madagascar, it can be done anywhere! Just one piece of advice I would like to give to anyone wishing to start a similar model: opt for a smaller vehicle. The CoderBus is spectacular but expensive, in terms of oil consumption. I’d advise a smaller car, large enough to fit laptops, a generator and a small crew of mentors. Also, instead of hosting classes inside the vehicle, arrange beforehand for a classroom with receiving communities. And there you go!


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