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Tobago kids take computer programming to a higher level

Thursday, April 16 2015

THE cadre of computer programmers in Tobago can now add twenty-one to their numbers. Twenty-one boys (21) and girls between the ages of six and nine were presented with certificates of completion after they attended the blink bmobile sponsored TechnoKids camp in Tobago during their Easter vacation.

The computer camp was developed by the Ministry of Tertiary Education and Skills Training (MTEST) for participants throughout Trinidad and Tobago. In Tobago it was hosted at the Calder Hall Multi-Purpose Community Centre and the Charlotteville Methodist School from March 31 to April 10. The TechnoKids camp aims to demystify computer programming and teach it in a way that’s fun and easy to learn.

Neilson Lewis spoke about his experience as an Instructor at the TechnoKids camp in Charlotteville. “I think the initiative is very good intervention at this age and the games and visual tutorials were well suited to capture and hold the interest of kids this age. It was a beautiful experience for them learning how to do coding and for me to teach them. A lot of people would like to know how to do programming but find that it’s hard, so seeing their excitement brought me joy.” Lewis continued “There was even further excitement when some of them wanted to learn how to do more programming beyond what this curriculum entailed. I used an application called Microsoft Small Basic to do additional programming exercises which they totally enjoyed.”

The computer camp used another game called Kodu which runs on Xbox and is a new visual programming language made specifically for children to create games. Eight-year-old Israel Elias attended the camp at the Calder Hall Multi-Purpose Community Centre and shared that he had a great time creating games. “I enjoyed attending the camp because I made new friends, learned how to use a computer and do coding. I got to play games and I understand now how to give the commands that make the games work. I used coding to give commands to the games’ characters to tell them to walk, move forward, to jump and do different things.”

The main application used in TechnoKids is Microsoft’s Hour of Code which facilitates the ongoing development of children by offering online, self-guided and self-paced tutorials. Even though the camp has concluded the children can go on the Hour of Code’s website and continue on to higher levels of computer programming and obtain certificates for each level. Jacqueline Adams was the Administrator for the TechnoKids Camp at the Calder Hall Multi-Purpose Community Centre and believes that programmes like TechnoKids are really needed in Tobago to broaden the future of the children and diversify Tobago’s economy. Adam shared that the parents were very appreciative of the camp because many of them would not have thought of computer programming as a future career for their children. She said “Some of the parents had other planned Easter activities for their children but they cancelled these plans so the children could come to the camp. The attendance was 100 percent every day except once when a child had an emergency.”

Lewis agreed that the TechnoKids programme was good Tobago and explained why “Firstly it will help these children to be able to express themselves better. To create and give commands to the games’ characters should have helped them learn how to break things down into very small steps.” Lewis added “Secondly we have a tourism dependent economy but this should open their minds to careers in IT; not just being a programmer but how the computer works, the hardware aspect of it etc. It is good to know that we may have a good future work force to draw on.”

A total of six hundred and thirty-five children participated in MTEST’s 2015 edition of its TechnoKids camp at various venues around Trinidad and Tobago to encourage as many children as possible to consider IT and software development as a future career. The Blink I Bmobile Foundation was a proud sponsor of the TechnoKids programme and donated the T-shirts for the children and staff, as well as the tablets used. Frances Simmons, Head of Tobago Operations at blink I bmobile expressed her delight at seeing how quickly the children learned computer programming and said “It was great to see the kids having fun during their vacation but still learning at the same time. We look forward to seeing many more children becoming involved in technology, now and in the future, and we will continue to support the education of our nation’s youth as much as we can.”

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