Innovation and adolescents: The (super)power of coding
When coding skills become superpower for young people to solve problems around them
It is a rainy Saturday morning in an airy co-working space in south Jakarta and a group of 14 adolescent girls and boys aged between 13 and 18 diligently learn the skills of team work, problem-solving and communication at a bootcamp – while working on changing the future for the better.
The atmosphere is relaxed but purposeful as the participants prepare for the Markoding Innovation Challenge. Part of a joint programme implemented by Markoding in collaboration with UNICEF Indonesia and supported by ARM, the bootcamp equips young people, between 10-19 years old, to create digital innovations that bring positive change in their communities. In addition to technical skills, it is also about developing critical 21st century skills including creativity, empathy and teamwork.
Most of the participants are from underprivileged backgrounds – many of them did not even know what coding was when they began this journey. Innovative initiatives such as this one provide an opportunity for young people to realise their potential while complimenting the skills that are taught in school. In an era in which many children have access to smart phones and play online games and in which schools have computer labs, it is clear that proper training can change behavior from tech consumer to tech creator. The Challenge journey commenced in November 2019 with a Teacher’s Workshop and will conclude with the Digital Innovation Demo Day in late March 2020.
Noticeably younger-looking than most of the other participants, 14-year old Faizal explains how he has always been interested in technology and has played online games since he was very young with players from across south-east Asia. With a shy smile he explains that his parents initially did not see the point of his gaming but are now “happy and proud” that he has been selected for the Challenge. A passionate football fan with an ambition to one day become a professional football player, Faizal becomes more confident as he speaks about the knowledge he is gaining through this programme. He believes that programmes such as this one are beneficial because “if kids learn individually, then they are alone and have only Google for advice, but with Markoding, there are mentors and this makes a difference.”
The app created by Faizal is called ‘Family Love’ and connects the user to a counsellor to confide in issues that are of concern. Faizal recounts how he has heard numerous stories of suicide, depression and bullying among children his age. Having witnessed bullying at times he is aware of how dangerous it can be and why it must be stopped. Faizal believes that the app will make a direct difference to the lives of young people and make them feel safer.
Like Faizal, 18-year old Rizki initially grappled with a lack of confidence, partly, he explains, because he attends a community learning centre and not a mainstream school. His confidence was however considerably boosted when he was selected to be a role model for the apps that his group was working on. His family and friends are supportive and proud of his selection to the bootcamp and he explains that, in addition to the technical knowledge he has gained in terms of coding, he has learned important decision-making skills. “I feel that I now have direction and goals in my life because Markoding has given me the chance to apply to university to study further and to make both I and my parents happy.”
When he was 9 years old, a friend of Rizki saw a dead body and reported it to the police. The consequence of this was that his friend – who was 15 at the time - was arrested and imprisoned falsely for murder for four years until his release thanks to the efforts of an NGO. This injustice resulted in him creating an app that connects people to NGOs which defend people who are unjustly arrested and secures legal assistance for them. “Until this bootcamp, I was just playing games but now,” says Rizki, “I am learning new things and I believe that others should have this opportunity just like I have.”
The support of the mentors has also made a meaningful difference for 16-year old Kristianti. Articulate and with a ready smile she recalls how a twist of fate led to her to be selected for the Markoding workshop when she stepped in at the last minute to do the entrance interview because her friend could not. She initially thought that it was a one-day programme but then realized that “this was no ordinary seminar.” Kristianti speaks confidently about the benefits of the training including presentation and editing skills as well as time management. “I now go to bed early and balance my school work with my coding work and still make time for my family and friends” she explains. In addition, through this training Kristianti has been able to get her school to have coding included in the teaching syllabus which was not the case before.
A key component of the programme is to design a digital solution that is both relevant and of benefit to ones’ community. Kristianti noticed the number of plastic bags littering the area around her home so she decided to create an app to track the use of useable bags. Once you have tracked the bag, you can take it back to certain stores and receive up to 30 000 Rupiah in return. “The potential of young people is buried because we don’t always understand that we have this capacity” says Kristianti, before adding that the programme has led to her decision to study Technology at university. “I want to be a success” she says with determination.
Kevin Kusuma is one such mentor and he is inspired by the young people he works with. For Kevin, this programme combines his main interests, namely game development and teaching. “I find this a two-way process” explains Kevin “because while I teach my students, I also learn from them.” Having participated in the Mentors Workshop in December 2019, he views this programme as providing complimentary services to the current education system, noting that “we need to upgrade the skills of children to fulfill their roles and end the cycle of poverty”. The 10 mentors comprise software developers and programmers who already have full-time jobs but who have a passion for innovation and teaching. Feedback from the mentors is that some participants initially enjoy learning the soft skills but have difficulty with the technical coding skills so extra effort is then put in to narrowing this gap.
“The ideas that come from this are remarkably specific, relevant and beyond our expectations” exclaims Amanda Simandjuntak, the co-founder of Markoding.“I have seen the change in kids over the past two months as they become more excited. We want them to learn how to explore issues, how to search for the solution and then implement the actual solution,” explains Amanda, before adding that she believes that “coding skills is like a superpower for these young people. Once you give them this training you give them a toolkit to solve problems around them and change the world.”
From littering to suicide prevention, pill-tracking to legal assistance, this programme shows the participants that they now have the power to help solve the challenges that they have identified.