Cracking the code

How digital skills are empowering adolescent girls in Bhutan to harness the power of technology.

Picture 1
23 October 2020

Sonam Choki loved gaming since she was little. From playing simple games on her parent’s cell phone to video game consoles and playing online, today, she aspires to create her own games using coding and programming.

Technology has always been mysterious for Sonam. “I like to discover things and learn more. I find technology mysterious and I wanted to know how things are developed, how it works and why it functions the way it does.”  She believes that through coding and programming, she is gradually uncovering the secrets of how things work.

Sonam had no knowledge on coding and programming. She thought it was too difficult and that she needed to be extraordinary to understand.  “But I realized, even an ordinary person like me can code. Coding is easy, understandable and useful.”

At 17, Sonam is now a trainer and teaches other young people about coding and programming through Pi Tops at the youth centre in the southern district of Sarpang. To date, Sonam has trained about 60 young people. Pi Tops are meant specifically for coding and can help users create apps, games, alarms and other devices, taking innovation to the next level.

Sonam was first trained in 2019 in as one of the participants on coding and programming. Noting her interest and potential, early this year, she received a Training of Trainers (ToT)to train young people. The training was aimed at educating and equipping young people with basic skills to prepare them for the future of technology. The training was conducted by FabLab Bhutan, a network platform for makers and creative people, in collaboration with the Department of Youth and Sports, Ministry of Education and UNICEF Bhutan. 

“Using what I learnt, I want to create something new.” During the training she said she learnt to make traffic lights using different sensors and was able to complete different projects. “It gives me space to be me. It helps me express.”

The possibilities of what one can create once they learn coding and programming are endless and like Sonam, are many adolescent girls who feel empowered by learning digital skills.

Khando Zeeyang, 14, is a trainer with the youth center in Samdrupjongkhar. Since last year, she has trained 12 young people in coding and programming through Pi Tops. “I am learning to create 3D designs and hope to teach my friends when the machine is installed,” Khando said.

Another trainer, Leechenma Pelmo, 19, believes that schools must encourage learning programming and coding. She believes that it enhances creativity in young people. She said, “It is interesting to see how easy it is for the youth to grasp ideas and create something new on their own.”

This year, schools started teaching coding and programming as part of the IT curriculum in about 180 schools across the country for high school students. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic scare, schools closed, and since the first lockdown, the youth centre remains closed.

“Right now, I don’t have access to Pi Tops or laptops with a software where I can practice my skills. But I continue to learn through the internet and some online classes that are conducted by Fablab Bhutan,” said Sonam.  

Sonam plans to teach children to create toys using nothing but plastic waste and 3D printers. “The future is technology. I believe these skills are necessary for everyone.”

Like education, technology is great equalizer. By cracking the code, adolescent girls have started challenging the stereotype that IT is predominantly a male domain.