'Cracking the code'
More than 100 students from Mayaro and surrounding communities have been prepared for a digitised society and economy through computer coding workshops delivered at the Mayaro Resource Centre over the July-August vacation period.
Sponsored for the second successive year by bp Trinidad and Tobago (bpTT) and delivered by Education Solution Specialists Limited (ESSL), the ‘Cracking the Code’ vacation learning experience provided students with a technical and practical understanding of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM), coupled with learning the fundamentals of computer-based coding.
Started on 7 July, the workshops were separated by age groups, with the first four cohorts ranging from age eight to 11, and the second batch featuring students 12-and-over. Apart from the core computer coding-based skills, the participants were also guided to develop abilities such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and real-time adaptability.
For Emmen Sobion, this was an essential experience for her nine-year-old son, Jaysean, who attends Mafeking Government Primary: “My son loves computers and he’s very good at gaming with the desire to build his own games. He’s so focused that he started saving up to buy a laptop and I fully support his interests. He saw the ad for this workshop, and he explained to me what coding was and how important it is. I did my own research, and this truly is the way of the future. This camp was an excellent opportunity for him to gain an advantage in an increasingly competitive global society.”
The students delved into a technology-focused understanding of diverse topics including animation, coding games and creating programs. They extended these concepts into marine life preservation, renewable energy, hydroponics, erosion mitigation and designing prototypes such as traffic lights and a storm alert system using software-compatible and Bluetooth-enabled components.
Commending the coding graduates was Luis Araujo, communications advisor, bpTT, “We are proud that each of you took the time out of your vacation to attend this camp. Modern jobs are focused on computer-based technology, so this course will give you an edge in any career you choose. From the feedback, we know that you all had fun and absorbed every aspect of training as shown by the innovative programs and prototypes you created. We know that this training will propel you, and Mayaro, to the forefront of modern development.”
Araujo explained that with the increasing prominence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other coding-focused skillsets, this camp will help improve academic performance, and give the students a significant advantage in the emerging economy and workplace.
Explaining his experience was 15-year-old Francis Phillip, who attends Mayaro Secondary School, “My goal is to become a software engineer and this camp really expanded my understanding of the required skillsets and mindset for this career. The teachers were excellent and offered a lot of individual attention while encouraging collaboration. I am graduating from this coding camp with a new vision for my future, and a network of friends who want to transform our community and country through technology.”
Delivering the feature address at the graduation function on Friday, 21 August, the Member of Parliament for Mayaro, Rushton Paray, was high in praise for the training programme: “The graduates of this programme stand on the edge of a digital frontier and bpTT has empowered you for a dynamically changing world. Coding is the literacy of the future, and you are the pioneers who will lead us forward.”
As mandated by bpTT, a key component of the programme is creating sustainable outcomes. In pursuit of this, a Mayaro-based coding academy will be managed by ESSL starting in September. This year-long programme will incorporate primary and secondary students and utilise block and script-based coding, integrated with arts and design, to align with traditional curriculum-based subject areas. The participants will also engage in projects that will incorporate technology to develop solutions for community-based needs such as flooding.
With a decade of experience in designing education architecture and implementing digital education strategies, managing director of ESSL, Brendon Butts, was enthusiastic about the turnout and enthusiastic participation of the students. He was assisted by ESSL general manager and tutor, Raenika Butts, as well as Mayaro-based volunteers, Renesa Joseph and Alex Gonsalves, the latter of whom is a second-year medical student and bpTT Brighter Prospects scholarship recipient.
According to Butts, “I must thank bpTT for providing this invaluable opportunity to so many young people and this is where the future is. They have supported training initiatives from pre-primary to post-graduate levels. This coding camp is another block in an inclusive approach where bpTT has invested in integrating technology in education, including the installation of SMART Boards in classrooms and providing laptops and tablets to students.”
He added, “This training fused creativity and technology, and challenged the students to use fundamental knowledge and concepts in creating a platform for them to build skills towards script-based coding, computer science and the working world of technology.”