digital competitveness

Coding for Kids

The ability to read and write computer code from a young age is becoming increasingly important in our technology-driven age. In an effort to address the need for greater ICT skills in the Middle East, a group of Harvard and Waterloo University graduates founded The Coding Circle in Dubai in 2014. The initiative attempts to teach students aged between 10 and 16 about computer programming in an innovative and entertaining way.

Last year, The Coding Circle made Jordan its first franchise outside Dubai, with the Zain Innovation Camp chosen as its operational hub. Cofounders of the franchise, Jida Sunna and Ruba Asfour, said they’re thrilled to see their project reaching the Kingdom’s tech savvy young. “We are implementing an educational road map for young students to develop expertise in a variety of fields, from web design to programming and mobile application development,” said Sunna.

A program including term-time courses and vocational training for schools was launched last summer. Each course is divided into two levels; elementary and intermediate, to give children a foundation on which gradually to build more sophisticated ICT skills.

The emerging culture of teaching children digital skills comes at a time when technology is playing an ever more central role in our lives, which requires an in-depth understanding and first-hand experience of ICT from a young age. However, creating an atmosphere for innovation and technology education is beneficial not just in terms of lucrative career prospects. Some evidence suggests that computer knowledge feeds critical thinking and helps children push through problems of everyday life.

The Coding Circle adopts a non-traditional teaching approach that brings into play first-class tech employees and executives. “By developing our courses closely together with professionals from the field, we are able to continuously update our curricula in line with latest technology developments and industry requirements,” Asfour explained.

But teaching digital skills isn’t just what The Coding Circle is all about. Being project-focused, each program allows participants to go through a real entrepreneurial experience. “As well as being introduced to coding, children learn how to write a business plan, create a marketing strategy, and pitch their ideas in front of an audience,” Asfour said. “Such an approach broadens their horizons as young professionals and makes them ready to engage in real life.”

In spite of some initial concerns about the early exposure of children to the Internet, Asfour said the project has been warmly welcomed—especially as younger generations now grow up around computers and video games. “Children aren’t intimidated when they sign up for a coding course, but just eager to learn how to make new exciting things with their own hands,” Asfour said. “Children think nothing is impossible, and our major goal is to be a playground for their imagination which we consider a key driver to competitiveness and success.”

The Jordanian franchise is now attempting to expand into rural areas of the Kingdom and design web development courses for adults. Not only did the company establish a partnership with Google, Facebook, and Uber, among others, but it also counts on the special support of Zain and the free access to a number of facilities to deliver its services.

Although the government has made some recent efforts to integrate more ICT into Jordan’s schools, the cofounders agreed the Kingdom’s education system still lags behind others. In a globally competitive economy, The Coding Circle sets to be part of a solution to the mismatch between projected future jobs requiring digital knowledge and the projected supply of highly-skilled workers to fill them. “Coding is the language of the twenty-first century,” Sunna said. “Whether one seeks to pursue a career in the industry of fashion or the agriculture sector, technology fluency is a fundamental job requirement today just as language fluency was in the past.”