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Coding all the way from Cape Town to Casablanca

Manuel Göpelt | Dec. 2, 2015
Africa Code Week aims to teach programming to young people in 30 countries.

Africa is widely recognized as the world's fastest-growing IT market. Its explosive growth is signalled in numerous areas, for example: McKinsey predicts that there will be 360 million smartphone users in Africa by 2025, six times as many as there were in 2013. At the end of 2014, Facebook had 100 million active users per month in Africa. And SAP estimates that 40% of enterprises are planning Big Data projects to adapt their businesses to the rapidly morphing market conditions in Africa.

Yet, despite all these changes, only about one percent of Africa's younger generation leaves school with relevant coding skills. That's not anywhere near enough to satisfy the demand for skilled personnel in this booming digital economy. Nor is it enough to give Africa's burgeoning working-age population an opportunity to become actors in their continent’s economic development. And let’s face it, the potential is immense: According to the World Economic Forum, Africa's working-age population is set to double to one billion by 2050, surpassing both China and India.

Broad alliance

"Digital literacy has the power to put millions of young Africans on the path to successful careers," said Morocco's Minister of National Education and Vocational Training, Rachid Benmokhtar Benabdellah, at the start of this year’s Africa Code Week. The educational initiative of which Africa Code Week is part and which began in October involves a host of businesses, NGOs, educational institutions, and government agencies. Its objectives are ambitious. After a promising start this year, the alliance aims to give children and young people in 30 African nations an introduction to software development in 2016. This will be achieved primarily by equipping local trainers to teach the basics of coding to the younger generation.

They've certainly made an auspicious start. During this October’s inaugural Africa Code Week, the initiative reached a whopping 89,000 participants in 17 countries with a range of free online courses and workshops. These were held by parents, teachers, sports coaches, and government workers – 1,500 of whom were trained by IT experts from SAP offering their services voluntarily and with technical support from their employer. These trainers included Kevin Morrissey, whose regular job is leading the SAP NetWeaver team at the Global Support Center in Dublin. "I've been working with children and young people in Ireland for a long time. When I heard about Africa Code Week this summer, I knew straight away that I wanted to be part of it," recalls Mr. Morrissey.

Mobile workshops on test

But the 35-year-old Irishman was not content to limit his contribution to providing preparatory training for trainers. In August, he learned that the Code Week organizers were looking for additional volunteers to accompany a five-day bus tour to take code workshops to communities whose IT infrastructure was not sufficiently developed to run the online courses. Significantly, although one in three Africans lives within 15 miles of an optical-fiber node, two-thirds of the population still has sub-optimal Internet access. Africa Code Week wanted to test the use of mobile workshops as a way of reaching out to children and young people in these areas.


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