Empowering girls to programme

Almira and Valentina are two girls, out of more than 1,000 children, who will have the opportunity to learn programming thanks to the joint UNICEF and Startit Learning for the 21st century programme.

Jelena Obućina
08 December 2020

Almira Emini was afraid that she had forgotten everything she had learned during a 3-day workshop she attended. The reason is simple – she doesn't have a computer at home.  

Some people were probably able to practice the things [they learned] during the [first] three-day [workshop], and some weren’t,” she says shyly.   

Empowering girls to programme
UNICEF Srbija/2020/Vaš

Almira and other children from vulnerable groups who do not have access to the digital world, devices or training are at the centre of the Learning for the 21st Century project. The project aims to help children to develop algorithmic thinking and learn to programme through learning and play, using simple code. It took Almira only a few minutes to remember how to solve big problems by taking small steps and thinking creatively.  

This is a robot; this is a tablet. It's perfect, it's not hard to learn,” is her message to other girls.   

UNICEF/2020/Vaš

Almira and Valentina are two girls, out of more than 1,000 children, who will have the opportunity to learn programming thanks to the joint UNICEF and Startit Learning for the 21st century programme. Free programming training courses have been organized since autumn 2019, in 11 cities across Serbia. The COVID-19 pandemic slowed down the implementation of the project, with some workshops postponed, but the priority is to adhere to preventive measures and keep children safe. Wearing a mask is not a burden for Valentina Meta.  

"I didn’t know [a lot about programming], so when we came to this workshop, we learned much more. It was fun,” she explains. 

With digital skills and tools, children in marginalized communities become more independent, increase their resilience and gain greater access to learning opportunities, health care and information – especially during uncertain times. If they don’t know English, that’s not an obstacle. Through colours and shapes, they quickly learn the basics of programming.   

The project supervisor Ranko Trifkovic also explains that 60 percent of the participants are girls who especially need to be empowered because that leads to closing the social and digital divides. 

Girls younger than 14 are very interested in technology. But there are no programmes that can help them [to get involved]. As they grow older, they move away from technology because they think it’s not ladylike.” That is why additional efforts are needed to empower girls. 

Valentina is convinced this won’t happen to her. Now, after the workshop, she already knows what she wants to do when she grows up.

I would love to do something that involves computers and the internet.”  

Empowering girls to programme
UNICEF Srbija/2020/Vaš

Data from 60 primary and secondary schools from Serbia indicate that only 5 percent of children are capable of creating online content. Damir Vranec, one of the teachers who works in the organization Bread of Life with Roma children from Belgrade, says that they were delighted to receive the invitation from Startit and UNICEF. The children's response surprised them.  

We had 4 boys and 7 girls apply, which is very interesting because girls don't often go to these kids of classes. [But] … they were engaged and active … in these workshops.

Almira and Valentina would love to attend another free workshop. They say it meant a lot to them - both in terms of learning, but also socializing. UNICEF data indicate that 95% of children think that free training courses are one of the better ways to get acquainted with digital skills. Twenty-eight percent believe that through tailored programmes and through easier access to equipment are necessary for girls and marginalized children to achieve equal access to digital technologies. And Learning for the 21st Century is just one way of achieving this goal.