What Happened At The First Help To Code Forum

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With the prospect of getting students to be more active with relation to IT and related technologies, ICTA (Information & Communication Technology Agency) inaugurated the Help To Code Forum. Under the ICTA – All Children Coding Initiative, the event took place on the 31st of January 2017 at the Luxurious Ramada Hotel in Colombo. The forum brought together both students and Industry experts in order to improve the logical and creative thinking, persistence, collaboration and communication in children through the introduction of coding.

Their goal is to develop a pool of coding volunteers across the country and seek assistance from students from universities and institutions to join the programme, hence the Help To Code programme and this forum. This was the first programme of its kind to be introduced to schools with great expectations indeed.

The Help To Code Forum kicked off with a speech by Arunesh Peter

Arunesh, Director, Projects/ ICTA was up first to address the gathering. He welcomed distinguished guests, industry experts and all those present to the first ever Help To Code Forum. Rather than call those present “volunteers”, he referred to them as Coding Evangelists.

“Change is the only constant in the world right now” – Arunesh Peter

Why talk about software now? Arunesh asked. The answer to that was simple. Because everything that we do today is run by Software.

Following that was a speech by Dr. Ajith Madurapperuma

Dr. Ajith, a board member of ICTA, spoke about how Coding is taught in many countries across the world. These countries want to teach coding to children from a very young age. Why? Because they need a generation that can think.

Help To Code
Dr. Ajith Madurapperuma addressing the gathering
Image Credits: ICTA

“Coding is just a part of this generation equation. Thinking is the other part.” – Dr. Ajith Madurapperuma

These are the skills that will be needed for the future. Rather than have 500,000 children entering for the Grade 5 Scholarship exam, the ideal scenario would be to have 500,000 students who can think to solve problems. The process of getting them to think is somewhat long term but it will definitely benefit society as a whole. If you can change 5 children by helping them to code, that indeed is a great start for the future.

With regard to the curriculum, it’s not only about programming, it will include sections designed to make students think.

In conclusion, Dr. Ajith encouraged the volunteers or evangelists of the Help To Code Programme to take the message of coding and spread it to the masses motivating them to code to build a better tomorrow.

“Change some lives, and by doing that, change the country.” – Dr. Ajith Madurapperuma

Next up was Anuradha Rathnaweera

Anuradha, a FOSS Evangalist was dressed in a simple sarong and black t shirt. He explained what an evangelist is and what they do. An evangelist exists to motivate and inspire people. For example, if you see your favorite cricketer on TV, you would look up to him/her and be inspired by what they do. That cricketer would be an evangelist.

Help To Code
Anuradha Rathnaweera addressing the gathering
Image Credits: ICTA

Anuradha shared some stories from his life experience. He accidentally started coding from the age of 14. Upon reading all the books in the science section of his library, Anuradha took a book titiled “Basic for Beginners” and he discovered the “For” loop and he immediately fell in love. Coding was his new passion. Upon his higher studies, he recalled how he had access to a PC with no Floppy drive at the school laboratory. Because he could not save his work, Anuradha would have to start his code from te beginning each day. It was here that he paid attention to typing and ergonomics.

Since then, he is very attentive to ergonomics and he says it will pay off a lot. Learning to use the keyboard faster will save you time as you go along programming.

Anuradha then explained his experience at the IOI or International Olympiad. Back in 2003, there was a huge interest in introducing Sinhala language and fonts to computers. He and a few others worked to make it available for Linux/Ubuntu.

Right after the Tsunami disaster, Anuradha involved himself in writing a program to keep track of people displaced or missing during the disaster. In doing that, h also discovered that there were others working on it to. They then pooled their resources to come up with a single solution that is now known as the Sahana Project.

He then went on to explain how books he read taught coding that could display graphics and graphs. This was what attracted Anuradha more to coding.

One of the key areas that Anuradha is working on is communication. Language is a key to good thinking.

If you can’t teach something clearly to someone else, you don’t know it very well – Anuradha Rathnaweera

Throughout his session, Anuradha emphasized how important language is. He also spoke about keeping a good flow and also spoke about effective communication. As evangelists, inspiring people is a key role.

Madhavi Wimalarathna of ICTA was up next.

She spoke about the Help To Code programme and how it’s first step to build a nationwide network of volunteers to help students code.

The basic requirement from the volunteers would be someone who is passionate about coding who can help in the classroom. They also need to be able to inspire students by talking about the breadth of possibilities of coding.

As the first step in the Help To Code programme, the Ministry of Education has identified 14 schools in the Western Promise with access to a computer laboratory. From these schools, a minimum of 15 students will be identified per school. Following that, volunteers will be identified and assigned to a school to teach coding for 1½ hours for a period of 6 weeks.

In order to volunteer for the program, these evangelists have to be available for 1½ hours per week to teach coding in a school for 6 weeks. They would also have to make time to prepare for the Help To Code session one day before at ICTA. With that regard ICTA would provide instructions and a tool kit.

They would have to prepare for the sessions by organizing in advance. Collaboration is also a must as they would have to collaborate with teachers as well as others. Training sessions would be conducted at ICTA on the 15th and 16th of February 2017 at the ICTA Auditorium.

Following this was a panel discussion

The discussion consisted of the with the following members:

  • Ajith Madurapperuma, Board Member/ICTA
  • Anuradha Rathnaweera, FOSS Evangalist
  • Arunesh Peter, Director, Projects / ICTA
  • Vasana Edirisooriya, Assistant Director / MOE

The discussion revolved around what steps could be taken to help teach code and also delved into the personal experiences of the panel members. An interesting note was that when asked the question “How many people wanted to be a driver when they were small?”, the volunteers raised their hands. While this may seem like what is usually done, Anuradha had a different view. He explained how rather than raising your hands as the answer, the actual literal answer would have been the number of volunteers who wanted to perform the task, reiterating how we need to build a generation that thinks for itself.

With regard to people who have completed their education and are volunteering, one volunteer shared his life experience where he disliked coding simply because of the way it was taught. He sees this as an opportunity to teach students how to enjoy coding.

Chandana Samarawickrama, Senior Lecturer at University of London – Royal Institute expressed his views on the project. He also drew from life experience where they would make sure that any coding done was fully optimized to use memory as back then, memory was a luxury they didn’t have.

Help To CodeWith that, the first ever Help To Code forum came to an end.

 

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