As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) it’s critical that we focus on empowering young girls to learn code.
There are three primary reasons for this. The first is that children of a young age don’t have firmly established gender norms. Teaching them coding can begin to dissolve the stereotypes around IT being a male-dominated industry.
Coding Teaches Essential Skills
The second is that, across genders, coding can teach essential skills like problem-solving, communication, comprehension and vocabulary. The third reason is to prepare girl children for the workplace of the future.
“I recently read a report from World Economic Forum that talks about how 65% of future jobs don’t exist yet,” says Zandile Keebine, Chairwoman of local NGO, GirlCode. “That tells me we need to think practically about how we prepare them for jobs that don’t exist, and coding is one way to do so.”
Kerryn Lee, Financial Manager at Tarsus On Demand, agrees. “This is where the world is heading. We need to empower girls to have these skills in order to assist them in becoming employable and competitive.”
Coding is about problem-solving
Inayeth Govender, Campaign Manager at Tarsus on Demand, is one parent who’s been teaching his six-year old daughter how to code since she was four. “Coding is about problem-solving, it’s creating art with keystrokes,” he says. “The advantage it gives to both genders is that creates new neural pathways in the brain, allowing kids to process things faster, be creative and problem solve from a young age.”
While four years old may seem early to start learning code, there are already several programmes encouraging the teaching of coding at the Early Childhood Development stage. These include initiatives like Kodable, Kibo, Lightbot Jrand Robot Turtles. Such solutions teach young children, particularly girls, coding skills through play, like using blocks to program wooden robots, storytelling with life-size grids and movement of fluff balls to teach things like commands, directional language and abstract logic.
“We need to be able to read and write, that doesn’t mean you’ll be an author, but you need that skill,” highlights Keebine. “In the 4IR you’ll definitely need some kind of coding skill. In particular, we need to enable girls to have these skills so they can participate economically in the world of the future.”
Mentorship has its place
Getting girls ready for a workplace that doesn’t exist yet is one of the reasons organisations like GirlCode exist, but mentorship, especially of girls from historically disadvantaged backgrounds, also has its place.
“For anyone, having a mentor is about being able to see yourself as someone, and knowing that it’s possible for you,” says Keebine. “It’s important for us in the industry to be visible to young girls so they can see that there’s someone just like them who’s made it, so there’s nothing stopping young girls from becoming what we are, and better.”
Lee agrees, “Mentorship provides a platform for girls to experience the practicalities around coding, while exposing them to current business problems that they can apply their skills and knowledge to.”
Coding secures the future
Teaching girls to code from an early age is about securing an economic future for them. As Keebine highlights, traditionally, it is young girls who are prevented from attending school or finding employment. “Ironically they’re the people who look after everyone else. They’re expected to look after not just themselves, but their communities as well, so it makes absolute sense that we upskill them,” she adds.
Govender agrees, “The top three jobs out there at the moment are cybersecurity, data science and software development. If we introduce girls to coding at a young age, we’re developing the future software engineers, developers and AI creators.”
According to Lee, it’s not just providing a pathway for young girls to achieve economic participation, but it’s also to the benefit of the country to have a host of young girls who can code.
“I think if we have an army of girl coders, we’re one step closer to assisting the economy in being more independent, and not being left behind the international curve,” says Lee. “We’ll be empowering girls to become the next business leaders and entrepreneurs of South Africa.”
Keebine agrees that teaching girls to code could have a ripple effect on the future of the country: “When you teach one girl child, you’re not just teaching them, you’re teaching a whole nation. I think that’s a critical part of making sure that we are focused on empowering and upskilling young girls, not just for the future of work, but for the future of the country.”