Hello World

Can teaching coding skills help tackle inequality?

June 27, 2022 Hello World Season 4 Episode 4
Hello World
Can teaching coding skills help tackle inequality?
Show Notes Transcript

We’ve been thinking about the challenges that many people, young and old, encounter and ask “Can teaching coding skills help tackle inequality?"

Full show notes:
https://helloworld.raspberrypi.org/articles/can-teaching-coding-skills-help-tackle-inequality

Gemma Coleman:

That is a huge question for a Monday, James.

Nina Szymor:

I could see the young people grow in know, seeing that this is something that they can also do.

Barath Vignarajah:

Ideally, it would be a job in the tech

James Robinson:

Welcome back to Hello World a podcast for digital making. I'm James Robinson, Computing educator and advocate of the power of coding and digital making and Computing as a whole to empower and change lives.

Gemma Coleman:

And I'm Gemma Coleman the editor of Hello desktop kind of gal. As ever, we really value your comments and feedback which you can share at helloworld.cc/podcastfeedback. James, it's season four and I can't believe you've only just invited me onto the podcast.

James Robinson:

Well, well, this is, It's been, it's been a to have you to join us and to share your experience and your perspective. So this week Gemma and I had been thinking about the challenges that many people both young and old encounter, and asking ourselves can teaching coding skills help to tackle inequality? Gemma what do you think we mean when we talk about inequality, and in your view how can Computing skills help?

Gemma Coleman:

That is a huge question for a Monday, James.

James Robinson:

I know.

Gemma Coleman:

What I mean to say is it's a very, very What do we mean by inequality? Well it's a disparity, isn't it a disparity of resources? Its a disparity of opportunity and in computer science education terms that's manifested in an under-representation of girls, I think minorities, choosing to study Computing for a whole host of reasons. So how can coding skills help tackle inequality. I think there are two quite important aspects to this. Firstly, teaching almost any useful skill to disadvantaged individuals and groups can help support them with entering the workforce, for example. Teaching coding skills is a really great example because it helps build both industry-specific skills, so being able to code in Python, for example, and all those really valuable soft skills that coding brings; working collaboratively; problem-solving; resilience. And the second aspect for me of how teaching coding skills can tackle inequality, is the talent pipeline that you're creating. So if we teach coding skills to underrepresented groups, then we're getting more underrepresented groups into tech and diversifying a traditionally very white, very male industry and diversifying the industry in turn should hopefully leads to more Equitable practices, more Equitable algorithms, more Equitable products, and so on, but don't take my word for it James. We've got some wonderful guests here, to help us with that question a bit more.

James Robinson:

Yeah. And just to sort of chip in, I think comprehensive answer there. I think for me, as well as a teacher, or as a former classroom teacher. One of the things was just wanting to share this what I think is an amazing discipline, an amazing kind of engaging and challenging kind of area with everybody I want I thought everybody should should be able to code and program and create and make. And you're write Gemma, thankfully our list as don't have to rely on just our perspective. I'm really pleased to welcome Nina Szymor who has extensive background in Translation and supports organisations in reaching global audiences. As an active member of Cambridge Refugee resettlement campaign, she organised and ran a Code Club for Refugee children in Cambridge. Well Nina, welcome to the podcast. And should we start with your Code Club experience? Can you tell us a bit about how that came about.

Nina Szymor:

Yes, of course. Hi, thanks. Thank you so much for having me. Yes. I, like you mentioned. I was an active member of the Cambridge Refugee resettlement campaign, I volunteered a lot in the in their marketing team, trying to get a newsletter out to volunteers and then I moved on to organising the volunteer Force for the, for the charity. I became a trustee, so I was really very heavily involved and also as an employee of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, you know, being a witness to the amazing mission of the organisation. I, you know, I decided to put the two together, it just made such a logical sense to you to start a Code Club for the children that the CRC was looking after. So, yeah, I, you know, I asked if I can run the Code Club in the office and I asked my colleagues too whether anyone wanted to help me run the club and yeah, but just just started this way and then and we run it for a year, really incredible year. And yeah, I'm very have very fond memories of it.

Gemma Coleman:

Nina, it's actually quite interesting because volunteering with the Cambridge Refugee resettlement campaign. I had my induction at the weekend and as soon as I said, I worked at Raspberry Pi Foundation, they immediately mentioned the Coding Club. So I think it has left a lasting impact.

Nina Szymor:

I'm absolutely gutted that we were unable to

Gemma Coleman:

Yeah.

Nina Szymor:

Kind of ruined all the plans and now I've Hopefully maybe you can pick it up.

Gemma Coleman:

Yeah, I think I've just dropped myself in

Nina Szymor:

Yes. Yeah. You kind of have.

James Robinson:

And your your legacy sort of lives on as well I Can't kind of let the opportunity pass without mentioning that. You know, if you want to see Nina in action, all you have to do is go and download Issue 11 of Hello World who where Nina and one of our Code Club participants is is is a cover star of that issue and forever will be the face of inclusion for Hello World.

Gemma Coleman:

Also joining us today is Barath Vignarajah. Barath has been a software developer for 18 years, in both finance and media, mostly working on server-side development projects. And these are skills which he's applied over the last year as a volunteer with Code Your Future an organisation who we featured in issue 17 of Hello World. So Barath welcome. Could you briefly, explain what the program is? Who it's for, how it works?

Barath Vignarajah:

Yeah and thanks for having me and hearing cool. And I think there is definitely some overlap between what I'm doing as well. So like you mentioned, I've been volunteering with Code Your Future for the last year. So this is a charity, mostly volunteer run organisation and what we aim to do is kind of work with disadvantaged people, who are this kind of includes like refugees, Asylum Seekers, people on low income or people with no income. And people who are just generally facing a variety of challenges in life and from all sorts of different backgrounds and like you mentioned like mostly backgrounds, which are actually underrepresented in the tech industry. But at the same time these are like very clever people, hard-working, highly motivated and interested in coding. So what we try to do is try to work with them, train them up to be full stack developers and then try to get them into the tech industry working with various companies.

Gemma Coleman:

Yeah, I think that's what's interesting about become software developers.

Barath Vignarajah:

Absolutely.

Gemma Coleman:

It's more than just a, you know, a club for a training people up with...

Barath Vignarajah:

Yeah. And we and we have people of all ages. So it could I think in our in our current group of trainees, we are age, the ages kind of range from like maybe around 23 to around 60. So these people who are just sort of looking to change careers or change the path in their life and move into that direction right now.

James Robinson:

So, I had a question of their Barath about, skills for this role, because you're obviously coming with a technical background and I can sort of appreciate that with how easily full stack developer just rolls off the tongue as you say it. And some of our listeners might not quite know what that means. And so I guess my question is could you explain a little bit more about about those those skills? And also, how important is it that you as a volunteer, have those skills to offer or are there other ways that volunteers can contribute?

Barath Vignarajah:

Yeah, so I guess I'll start by saying that volunteer can contribute. And this this kind of includes sort of like the range of like, like, how many hours you might have to give in your time, if you're very busy, you can just like volunteer for a couple of hours a month, let's say. The different types of roles we have include sort of technical roles but also non technical roles. We help with sort of let's say English language skills, interview skills, interpersonal skills, team working skills, all that kind of stuff as well. Time management skills. So you don't necessarily need to have a technical background to kind of help out Mentor people and get involved.

Gemma Coleman:

Yeah, I think that's quite useful for someone always feel like I have to caveat conversations like this saying, I'm not not a Computing expert. My background was actually in politics and international relations. I'm interested in this from another angle, as well as the Computing angle. So, it's I think it's always a relief to hear that you can you can bring something to the table with something like this. Even if you don't have, even if you're not as comfortable with the term, full stack developer as you both, just alluded to.

James Robinson:

And thinking about your, so maybe you're group. Is this, is that what sort of skills might Gemma need Nina if she wanted to re-establish a Code Club like this, or if we're talking to our listeners around the world, if they wanted to replicate this what are the skills that they're going to need to offer this in their areas?

Nina Szymor:

Well, the good thing about the Code Club technical skills or a technical background. I mean, my background is in, is in language, is in Translation. And, you know, I can barely put two and two together, you know, my math skills are this bad. So, you know, I am definitely not a person that you could imagine running a Code Club. And it was definitely something that was very, very much out of my comfort zone. It took a lot for me to gain the confidence to run, but to start running the Code Club but once we started, I saw that it's actually, you know, it just sounds a lot scarier than it is. We use the resources developed by their Raspberry Pi Foundation, you know, which are step-by-step guides, which you just read ahead of time, make sure that you understand everything so that you can support the children and then you just take them through it. So you know so that actually isn't it isn't a requirement to have? I'm sure it's helps for sure but yeah if we you know we started off with some beginner resources and I felt like we didn't need that technical knowledge in the room.

James Robinson:

And were there any skills that came with sort group, you know, are there skills that you need to work with individuals from a migrant or a refugee kind of background that you might help you cater. And that question really is for either Nina or Barath.

Nina Szymor:

For my perspective, we definitely struggled a We worked with children who were at very different stages in their Journey. Some of them had already been in the UK for a while and they spoke very good English whereas some of them were quite new only recently resettled at that point and had very little understanding of English. So you know that's where we struggled a little bit and we had to have different approaches to to it. To different young people that we had in the club but that just meant that we needed more volunteers. You know we tried using translated resources in Arabic but because we ourselves didn't speak any Arabic, we felt it wasn't really much point, you know, apart from them, being able to read read read the project in Arabic, but we wouldn't be able to provide them any support either. So you know it, we kind of decided against it and we also thought it. Well, it might be good to help these young people, develop their English language skills. And what we found is that the young people are helping each other, which was really lovely. You know, some of the kids that were longer in the UK and already spoke English. They were helping the the children who only had recently been resettled. So so yeah. So English, yeah, English was definitely a challenging thing and a skill that we needed to work on, but also basic computer skills, you know, we take it for granted. But some of these children weren't even able to use the mouse. So that's something that we have to work with them on. Something I could do so, you know, so that's a tech skill that I wasn't lacking.

Barath Vignarajah:

Yeah, I definitely agree, I can kind of I think we Face very similar challenges with Code Your Future. Obviously like our trainees do come from a range of different countries and have different levels of english comprehension. And of course, like as most of us know, if you're trying to kind of understand requirements before you're coding something like understanding them is is a big part of the job. We do try to kind of like help them along with their English language skills and try to I guess on one hand, it's kind of understanding English. On the other hand. It's kind of trying to understand technical information in English which is like another level of understanding that you have to kind of get to. So it's definitely a big Challenge and I can definitely relate as well to what you say with not necessarily having basic computer skills as well. I think we have a range of trainees who some of whom have not really used computers that much. And a few of whom have don't actually even have access to a laptop. So we do try to kind of provide that kind of a laptop to them in those situations but obviously it's kind of trying to get them to understand how to use them from scratch.

Gemma Coleman:

Yeah, I was just about to ask that with if between, you know, sessions with you that must be quite difficult. But if you're providing them with the laptop, I guess that can kind of help.

Barath Vignarajah:

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. So we try to provide I think the general philosophy, which I, which I've heard German Bencci, who's the founder of Code Your Future? He was mentioning before is to basically try and reuse resources which are not currently being used. So if you have a laptop at home which is not currently being used, it can be used by someone. There's definitely someone out there that will need it. Or we also try to have our classes like sort of in person in venues, usually in offices, which are kind of not being used on the weekend, for example. Another example is like, our volunteers have obviously software development skills and and other skills, but we try to reuse time that they're not currently using, so it's this kind of like theme of kind of reusing resources, which are not currently being used as much as we can.

James Robinson:

I was going to pick up on the thing that was around, there's something around the challenges that our Learners, whether they're young or older kind of facing. And that's the kind of they've got the the English barrier. They've got sort of technical barrier, they've also got the use of the computer and I think not to get too theoretical and pedagogical on you. It feels like sort of there talking about you know we're expecting quite a lot of them and we're putting quite a strain on their cognitive load. They're trying not only to do to read the English and use the computer but then also learn something while they're doing that. And so I think the resources that we provide the scaffolding that helps them overcome some of those challenges is really important that scaffolding takes the form of the written resources. But also the people, the facilitators in the room who can help them feel comfortable and safe and secure, and to have helped navigate, which is again, Nina back to your point about not using the translations, actually having somebody that you could, you know, you could go to if they can't speak your language. Or you can't communicate that actually, that's a big source of support that's being taken away from you. I, you talked a lot about developers in your, in your point their Barath. And I guess all three of you actually are, are volunteering your time. So in different ways I'm really interested in particularly our guests, but also Gemma if you want to come in on this, if you're interested. What do you get from volunteering? Why do you volunteer, what's in it for you? Without been to mercenary about it but you must get something from it, right?

Barath Vignarajah:

So I get quite a lot out of it. I mean, sometimes I kind of joke around that, like I get more out of it than I'm putting into it just because like for example, just the just the inspiration of like what watching these people who have struggled quite a lot in their lives and had quite a lot of challenges, still kind of like a forging ahead with this new path. That that's that's quite inspirational. And basically like every Saturday we have this lesson and I usually come out of this lesson, feeling really refreshed and rejuvenated just from from working with them. And then and then there's like a few other things. Like I think Community is a big aspect of what Code Your Future does and kind of, I think maybe what sets it apart from some other similar organisations. There's definitely a very, very much like a community feel between the trainees and the volunteers and the other people around CYF. And you kind of just really get to know people on a personal level and that's just really rewarding to work with.

Gemma Coleman:

Yes, I was going to say, actually I remember Future, in issue 17 that a lot of volunteers were saying that they gained a huge amount of Confidence from from the program, from volunteering themselves. So a lot of people said that they gain leadership skills, presentation skills, mentoring skills. As well as that kind of warm and fuzzy glow that you get from helping out. So, I suppose it seems like a quite good way to build your own soft skills as well.

Barath Vignarajah:

Yeah, definitely. And there's a lot of Who start as sort of teaching, assistants, maybe not speaking in front of like, a larger group but maybe working with people one to one. But then they might move into kind of like, teaching a lesson here and there in front of a larger group of people. And then you know, you kind of have to work on your presentation skills, your time management skills. There's a lot that goes into it that maybe is not necessarily obvious on the surface of it.

Nina Szymor:

Erm, yes, I mean, I probably have similar volunteering. I, you know, when, in my time, during my time, with Cambridge Refugee resettlement Campaign, I tried lots of different things, you know. And one of the things that I enjoyed a lot was working with volunteers and it just gave me a different perspective. I work with volunteers at the Raspberry Pi Foundation as well, and being able to get a different perspective and different type of experience was really helpful for my job in general. So, you know, again, not kind of skills that I gained and confidence in what I do for sure. But yeah, you know, in terms of that fuzzy feeling I, you know, just just having those kids in the room goofing around and playing and you know, the smiles on their faces and the happiness when they received their little scratch certificate is it was just, you know, it's just pure joy and it was just such an amazing feeling and and just you know, the thought that I'm facilitating their learning and them hopefully maybe in the future, you know, joining one of one of the Code Your Future's courses perhaps or you know, going to University to study Computing. You know. It's yeah, it's just a great feeling and just my way of giving back a little bit.

James Robinson:

And Nina you mentioned there and I can't let podcast without asking you a little bit about your volunteer community you've built over the last couple of years. So I know that you've built this amazing Community around the world to help translate and and that's all volunteer-driven. Could you tell us a little bit more about that briefly and how people can get involved?

Nina Szymor:

Sure, yes. So, you know, Raspberry Pi Foundation, develops, amazing resources for kids to learn about coding, physical Computing, and so on. And there's a an incredible body of research showing that learning in one's native language results in better, social and learning outcomes and it just makes sense for us to translate those resources. You know it's good for for for helping girls access education and to do better. It's better better for test scores. It's you know even there is a there is a specific study in to learning programming in a native language which shows that you know if you learn in your mother tongue as opposed to English, even if you know English very well you still do better when you learn in your native language. So you know it makes a lot of sense to translate resources and so yeah, the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we've decided to to make the most of the amazing support that we get from people around the world and we've built a community of volunteer translators who could translate those resources for us. You know, we have an infrastructure for people to, to do it in the most effective and easy way. You know, a lot of our recent volunteers aren't professional translators. So they don't know much about what translation is about and about all the technology out there for translations. So we've made it as simple as possible. We provide them with all the help they need, training tutorials, you know, very, very introductory information about translation so that they can make an informed decision in their work. Yeah. And we've translated, we've created I think around 1700 translations now. So you know, lots and lots of different, scratch, mainly scratch and python projects on our website are available in lots of different languages and if anyone would like to join they can just go to rpf.io/translate and have a look there, everything's laid out and they can have a look and see if that's something for them.

Gemma Coleman:

When we're talking about translation are we talking about kind of bringing in different cultural contexts.

Nina Szymor:

So at the foundation I work as part of the produces the non-formal educational content and we when we develop resources we try to make them as culturally relevant as possible. It's not always possible you know? But we do our best to think of our Global audiences when we develop content. When we translated, we, you know, we don't do much in terms of adapting the content, but we do make all of the screenshots available. Like we redo all of the screenshots to make sure everything is in there in the local language rather than in English. So when you go onto a translated resource, it's fully available in the language of the of the speaker so that they can just go through the proj the project as if it was written for them.

James Robinson:

I think I'm right in saying that the a lot of always removed before. It kind of gets to the translation stage to make it more accessible and less challenging for the translators to have to kind of translate references to things that don't make sense in their culture necessarily.

Nina Szymor:

That's right? Yes, yes. So we started with at the foundation to make them aware of some of the pitfalls that translators face in Translation. So that we could not have them in the text in the first place. And but yeah, we've now kind of also started thinking about how to write our content in a more International way so that it's not very kind of you know it's not necessarily just very Western in in it doesn't have this very Western perspective that we think of you know what is going to be relevant for our for our Learners around the world.

James Robinson:

So the dreaded cup of tea make a cup of tea,

Nina Szymor:

Sorry!

James Robinson:

Yeah, No that's good, that's good.

Gemma Coleman:

Okay, so I think what would be really from both Nina and Barath is what, what the people who have taken part in these programs , the young people for Nina. And those people taking part in the Code Your Future program. What have those people got out of those programs?

Nina Szymor:

There hasn't been much of a follow-up, as a So it's difficult for me to say for sure but you know just judging from what I saw when we were running the sessions you know, I could see the young people grow in confidence and especially the girls, you know, seeing that this is something that they can also do computers, you know, and they can be successful in it and they can really Master it. There's this one particular memory that I have when two new girls joined our club and we were going through a scratch project and they had very limited all understand of English. And they had very limited not experienced using computers, and there's this one girl in particular that had already been attending sessions for a while, and she felt so confident. And she felt so proud of herself. When she was able to help the other two girls and show them how Scratch works and where to click and where to go. And just so, you know, they kind of sense of pride that she. She showed it was just, you know, a really, really amazing moment because you could see she was empowered that she could see this is something that is actually for her. It's not just, it's not just something for, you know, oh that's for boys that you know, that it's something that she could do as well. And that was a really powerful moment for me and I hope it was for her as well.

Gemma Coleman:

Yeah, that sense of belonging.

Nina Szymor:

Hmm. Yes, yes. Exactly. Like she you know it Oh you know.

Barath Vignarajah:

I guess maybe the answer for me is a little perspective. Just because we are dealing with adults. And what we try to do is we try to work with them to the point where they're actually doing sort of interviews with companies and hopefully getting a job at the end of the at the end of the process. So I think in terms of the impact that it has on those Learners, I think ideally it would be a job in the tech industry at the end of it. One of the things that we love to see actually is when we have some of our former trainees, come back and volunteer again and speak with sort of the new trainees that are coming through our program, I guess the impact that we have as people in the software industry, talking to the trainees is one thing but like to see them and how they react to former students who have been in their shoes just a year or two years before is a, it's just like a whole other.

Gemma Coleman:

Yeah, it must be incredibly motivating to see Well, that could be me. This isn't just a sort of pipe dream.

Barath Vignarajah:

Sure. Yeah. And if you're a learner, you doubt in your mind is this actually going to lead to something? Am I actually going to get a job out of this to, to be able to see that is definitely valuable.

Gemma Coleman:

Yeah, and especially when you're a complete, beginner, you know, I when you're, when you're starting from scratch, I think it might be quite scary to think. In a year, a year-and-a-half. Whatever the timeline maybe you know you might not necessarily believe that that's going to happen. So...

Barath Vignarajah:

Yeah, definitely gives them some perspective. It gives them some hope.

Gemma Coleman:

Yeah. And see. Yeah, exactly to see somebody is the right place for them and that they welcome there.

James Robinson:

Super, well thank you Nina and Barath and our listeners want to find out more about your work or connect with you individually, w Where can they find you online? Nina? How about you?

Nina Szymor:

Probably the best place to go is LinkedIn? So yeah, I'm sure there isn't many Nina Szymors out there. So just look me up and send me a message. I'll be happy to connect.

James Robinson:

Great will include you in the show notes, if Where can people get in contact with you?

Barath Vignarajah:

Yeah, I think probably the best place to go Website. There's a contact page there. There's more information about like volunteering the different types of ways that you can volunteer and help out. Yeah that would probably be the best place.

James Robinson:

I found that conversation really fascinating We asked you our audience, whether you thought that learning Computing and programming skills could help tackle inequality that is faced by Learners, whether they are young or old, and friend of the podcast, Yolanda came back and said that she wholeheartedly believed that computing and programming skills will help to level the playing field for students.

Gemma Coleman:

And Nicholas Provenzano had an important positively impact in equality issues. But that if people don't have access to devices and the internet in the first place, they will always be at a disadvantage.

James Robinson:

And finally, Alexis Cobo, who joined us on again, about equity and access and inclusion all being Pathways to help, widen participation in Computing and yes, there are barriers but things like teacher PD and investments into CS will help us tackle those inequalities over time. If you have a question for us or a comment about our discussion today then you can email via podcast@helloworld.cc Or you could tweet us at @HelloWorld_Edu. My thanks to Nina and Barath for sharing their time, experience and expertise with us today. Next time we'll be talking about methodologies that we can take from industry and apply within our Computing classroom. So Gemma, what did we learn today?

Gemma Coleman:

What have I learnt? Well, I've learned that I've probably volunteered myself to restart Nina's Code Club so perhaps the lesson for me there is to keep quiet. In all seriousness, this has been a really interesting conversation, especially hearing about both ends of the spectrum. The community support for young people, through Nina's work, right up to learning skills, to enter the tech industry as an adult with Barath.

James Robinson:

Great and only took away really that I can knowledgeable as this is a skill that I don't need in order to volunteer.