Africa’s biggest digital skills initiative, SAP Africa Code Week (ACW), officially launched yesterday with a strong focus on virtual learning as the continent struggles to recover after COVID-19 disruption.
The launch coincided with World Teacher’s Day, which focuses this year on “teachers at the heart of education recovery”.
Speaking at a virtual event to mark both World Teacher’s Day and the start of SAP Africa Code Week, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, Dr. Tawfik Jelassi, said that the pandemic has had a devastating effect, not only on the world’s health system and economy but also on education and the teaching profession.
Research shows that African children at the primary-school level have been most impacted by the pandemic, while a UNICEF study estimated that many African schoolchildren are at least a year behind. “Teachers are at the heart of global education recovery efforts and are key in accelerating progress towards inclusive, equitable and quality education for every learner in every circumstance,” Jelassi said.
In light of COVID and the need for virtual learning, Jelassi highlighted the importance of digital skills for Africa’s youth. “Understanding information technology, computational thinking, and problem-solving are all fundamental information literacy skills. Everyone should have access to information and be able to obtain the necessary competencies to turn information into knowledge and knowledge into practical value which enhances their lives and well-being,” he said.
The necessity of digital fluency
Since its inception in 2015, Africa Code Week has empowered more than nine million youth and provides free opportunities for students and teachers to learn much-needed technology skills. Last year the format of the program shifted entirely to the exciting world of virtual, making it even more accessible to youth across the continent.
A key highlight for ACW this year is the AfriCANCodeChallenge, a coding competition for students aged 8 to 16 to create a game that solves a community issue using the Scratch programming language.
The theme for this year is “Change the world with your superpowers”. Last year the competition drew entries from 1,800 participants from 40 African countries, with the top three winners from Ethiopia, South Africa and Algeria – all three of whom are girls.
Speaking at the virtual launch, Honorable Albert Nsengiyumva, Executive Secretary of the
Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and ACW patron, said that coding offers new ways for young people to find solutions, although he acknowledged that infrastructure on the continent remains a challenge. “Coding is a language which young people need to be fluent in,” he said. “It gives our children computational skills and the ability to creatively solve problems.”
Encouraging teachers and girls to embrace technology
As part of ACW, a host of Train-the-Trainer virtual sessions are aimed at empowering teachers with critical digital teaching skills. Training opportunities also encompass a Women Empowerment Program which seeks to teach, mentor, and inspire African women and girls to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Although Africa has the world’s highest population of young people according to the UN, less than 25% of African higher education students are in STEM fields and female students, in particular, are critically underrepresented.
Speaking of the need to educate educators, Claudio Muruzabal, SAP Regional President of EMEA South, said, “Education has an unbelievably powerful multiplier effect for a positive future. The more we can do to create opportunities for young people to embrace digital literacy, the more we contribute relevantly towards creating a better future for them, for their families, and for their communities.”
Smart Switch to mobile technology
With over 650 million smartphone users in Africa, a major innovation of last year’s ACW was the introduction of a smartphone app.
“While we are immensely proud of this and the fact that millions of learners and teachers are being exposed to the endless possibilities the tech world offers, we are also excited to be sparking conversations about access to quality education for all and addressing the gender and special-needs barriers for Africa’s youth,” said Claire Gillissen-Duval, head of SAP Corporate Social Responsibility for EMEA and Africa Code Week founder.
The driving force behind ACW is to empower young people and help them to become digitally literate and enable Africa to leapfrog into the 21st century. “This could only be possible through the collaborative relationships between the public, private and non-profit sectors that are at the heart of ACW,” said Michelle Winthrop, Policy Unit Director at Irish Aid, which together with SAP and UNESCO, is one of the program’s main sponsors.
Despite the restrictions imposed by COVID, last year’s initiative successfully reached 1.5 million youth, of which nearly half (48%) were girls. Over 10,500 workshops were held across 43 countries and 21,000 teachers participated in Train-the-Trainer sessions.
The live workshop season of Africa Code Week 2021 officially commenced on World Teacher’s Day, 5 October, and is now open to more than 54 pan-African countries. For more information about Africa Code Week or to get involved, visit www.africacodeweek.org