27 Jan Africa’s first programming language to teach kids code
BraceScript is a new, simplistic coding language that has been launched in Africa to teach local kids how to code and to develop future software engineers. Kennedy Kanyi, a 25 year old software programmer, came up with the language after seeing the need for a customised platform to teach kids how to code.
When he was in college he taught himself coding skills and then he began to teach his classmates. Once he graduated from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) with a Bachelor’s degree in IT, Kanyi realised that more needed to be done to get younger people interested in technology.
“I still felt the urge to teach code but now my interest was in kids,” Kanyi tells IDG Connect in an interview.
With funds from his development company, Oneplace Technologies Ltd, Kanyi went ahead and created BraceKids an initiative to teach children how to code. “The initiative aims to teach one million kids in Africa how to write software. That includes [everything from] basic coding to Artificial Intelligence.”
Kanyi tells us that once he launched the BraceKids site, he got a lot of positive feedback especially from parents who wanted to enrol their children.
However, his offices at Even Business Park, along Airport North Road in Nairobi, could only accommodate up to 15 children at a time. So, he decided to create his own platform to teach children how to code online.
“Instead of teaching kids with the normal languages, I wanted to create an introduction course that would be both fun for the kids,” Kanyi says.
There are many programming languages out there that are meant for kids like Scratch, Alice, GameMaker and StarLogo TNG. But Kanyi wanted something of his own and after two and a half months of coding he launched BraceScript.
Over 800 kids have signed up since its launch early this year and Kanyi hopes that he will be able to bring in more kids from all over Africa.
“The demand was so high that after the second day of launching my website bandwidth got exhausted,” Kanyi says.
There has been a lot of debate in the global tech arena about why people need to learn how to code. In an article in the Guardian, Dr Dan Crow is chief technology officer of Songkick, explained that software is becoming the language of the world and every industry is being affected by the adoption of technology.
“This is not primarily about equipping the next generation to work as software engineers, it is about promoting computational thinking. Computational thinking is how software engineers solve problems. It combines mathematics, logic and algorithms, and teaches you a new way to think about the world,” Crow wrote.
“With the kind of work we are doing, if most of us had learnt how to develop earlier it would have been a much smoother road for us,” Kariuki tells IDG Connect.
“So many guys are going out of campus and there are no job openings for them. Think of what would happen if we start learning how to develop our programs earlier on in life,” Kariuki adds.
He also believes that teaching kids how to code might not start with hard stuff but could teach them how to make shapes with programming language. This will gradually introduce them to how a program works.
“It enables them to think outside the box,” he says. “As opposed to us who went into campus thinking the IT courses we will do will make something out of us but by the second year you realise it is not happening.”
Kanyi also believes that to have world class software engineers in the world, you need to identify them early and ease them into the industry.
“We have to agree on one thing. If you want someone to really understand things and if you want to create outstanding programmers you have to start them of while they are young,” Kanyi says.
“And you know the path that technology is taking in our continent: everything is going tech,” he adds. Kanyi agrees that if we teach kids how to code when they are very young, they become critical thinkers and they can help shape Africa’s future.
“It’s good for a kid to understand the world they are living in,” Kanyi states.
But there are uphill tasks that Kanyi has to deal with to make his dream fully come true.
“I am looking for funding to get a big hub that can fit 200 kids. In that way I can have planned lessons, daily or weekly,” he stays. For Kanyi, the online programme should be just an introduction to programming for kids. The real nurturing, he envisions, should be face to face.
“I am looking for kids across Africa. So my challenge was, how to get to kids in other countries, running on the same channel and having ground people to help them,” Kanyi says.
He has launched a volunteering system where people from various African cities can volunteer to host kids and teach them code wherever they are.
Kanyi strongly believes this will help transform the fortunes of the continent. And he urges many more players in the education sector to introduce more kids to the latest technology.
“Programming is actually the key to a bright future for our continent,” Kanyi concludes.