Digital Skills for Life: IIPGH Empowers Basic School Students in Agona West Municipal through The Coding Caravan

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Digital Skills for Life: IIPGH Empowers Basic School Students in Agona West Municipal through The Coding Caravan

In an era driven by rapid technological advancements, digital literacy has become an indispensable aspect of education. Recognizing the urgency to equip young minds with essential digital skills, the Institute of ICT Professionals Ghana (IIPGH) in partnership with the Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications (GCT), organized a transformative digital skills training program for basic school students in Agona Swedru. Under the theme “Digital Skills for Life,” the training emphasized the crucial role of digital literacy in students’ lives, not just as a requirement for future jobs, but also as an essential skill set that can positively impact their personal growth and overall well-being. The curriculum was designed to be interactive, engaging, and relevant to the students’ daily experiences, making the learning process both enjoyable and valuable.

The Coding Caravan initiative

In 2021, the idea for the coding caravan was conceived when IT Consortium collaborated with IIPGH to expand its coding program to underprivileged communities. The objective was to introduce students in these communities to computer usage through practical skill development programs, with coding being a central focus. Following the resounding success of the initial coding caravan, several more were subsequently established.

The coding caravan operates by dispatching laptops preloaded with Block-Based Programming Software – Scratch, as well as 3D printers, to various communities in different regions. This initiative aims to provide beneficiary students with exposure to coding concepts and other contemporary technologies. Earlier this year, on the International Day for Girls in ICT, the coding caravan made its inaugural stop in the Birim Central Municipal, Akim Oda, Eastern Region. During this stop, more than 200 girls were introduced to fundamental computer programming concepts, marking an encouraging and impactful beginning for the 2023 caravan project.

Coding Caravan in Agona West Municipal

The Coding Caravan had its second major stop on 13th July 2023 in the Agona West Municipal Assembly. 212 Students, both girls and boys, were selected from 38 JHS and Primary schools in Swedru, Mkum and Nyakrom (all in Agona Swedru). The IIPGH and GCT team were warmly welcomed by the Municipal Director of Education (MDE) – Dir. Bismarck Offei Mfaafo, the Member of Parliament (MP), Agona West Constituency – Hon. Cynthia Mamle Morrison, the Municipal Chief Executive (MCE) for the Municipal – Hon. Evans Addison Onomah Coleman, a Chief and Abusuapanyin of Agonaman, and the Municipal ICT Coordinator (MIC) – Joseph Andrews Konkromah.

David Gowu, the Executive Director of IIPGH provided a concise overview of IIPGH’s activities and core mission, emphasizing the significance of acquiring digital skills in today’s era, and concluded by underscoring the workshop’s purpose – to actively equip participants with essential skills due to their crucial relevance.

Dr. Ing. Kenneth Ashigbey, the CEO of the Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications, led an engaging and mind-stimulating session with the students. He initiated the session by inviting the students to share their understanding of ICT and mention key occupations the municipal community engaged in. He further prompted them to identify challenges faced by community members and explore how ICT tools could offer potential solutions. The students offered insights into challenges such as poor sanitation, improper fishing methods, and inadequate roads. To address these issues, they proposed using technological solutions such as combined harvesters, GPS tracking for fishing activities, and waste recycling. In closing, the CEO of the Chamber motivated the students to think innovatively about how ICT tools can effectively address problems in their community. The MP and Chiefs offered valuable counsel to the students, urging them to seize the opportunity for hands-on learning in programming concepts, an experience that many of their peers have not been fortunate enough to encounter.

The teachers were actively included in the MP’s address, as she encouraged them to embrace the invaluable chance for training provided to them. This opportunity would complement the ongoing initiatives aimed at ensuring they are well-prepared to support the students’ ICT education.

The training

The training had 2 cohorts. The first cohort of 100 students had a very interactive and practical session in the morning while the second cohort of 112 students were engaged in a similar session in the afternoon. During both sessions, the students were shown the different parts of the Scratch interface and guided through animation projects using the Scratch blocks. Through the workshop, they were taught some programming concepts like sprites, event handling, sequences, loops / iteration, parallel execution, among others. After the session, the excitement displayed on the faces of the students upon seeing the results of their hard work when they executed their scripts was heartwarming. For the organizers, it was a rare privilege to offer these students their first experience in realizing that they could do anything they put their minds to and open the window of vast possibilities available to them through coding.

The 2nd part of the training was in 3D design and printing. The students were taught the concept of 3D as opposed to 2D, how they could design any object using various 3D models and their printing process while showing them the various parts of the 3D printer and their functions. The challenge with the 3D design and printing is that most schools and communities are not equipped with the 3D printers to help in further exploring and deeper understanding of the subject which could lead to breakthrough innovations in that area. To encourage the students to be attentive and fearless in communicating their knowledge, those who actively participated by answering questions were given prizes in the form of 3D printed objects and paraphernalia from the Chamber.

Teacher Participation and Empowerment

As part of the new initiatives introduced during this workshop, a separate training session was arranged for the teachers accompanying the children. Recognizing the pivotal role teachers play in guiding the students’ learning journey beyond the workshop, it was envisioned that this training would mark the inception of an ongoing educational process for the students. During the workshop, the teachers were engaged in an introductory session on Scratch and 3D technologies. This approach held significant importance as it facilitated discussions about equipping teachers with fundamental digital skills, particularly knowledge of Scratch programming software. Remarkably, this course is already included in the Basic School Curriculum, but many of these schools have yet to incorporate it into their teachings, due to lack of expertise/understanding, and lack of the required learning tools and setup.

By addressing this concern and empowering teachers with essential digital competencies, the workshop sought to lay the groundwork for a brighter future where young learners can confidently embrace the world of technology.

Considering their level of maturity and the kind of assistance they will be required to give to the students, a bit more complex project was adopted for the teachers which made use of event handling, variables and loops / iteration. In the beginning, the teachers were quite skeptical about the relevance of the workshop, but the session ended up a bit prolonged due to the excitement they started showing and their reluctance for the session to end. To make it more interesting and practical, interactions on strategies they can use to overcome various challenges they may face as teachers in their teaching process were facilitated. They were also taken through the basics of 3D modelling and printing which, not surprisingly, they were quite new to and fascinated by the idea of printing out designs modeled.

Students with special needs

One of the most touching and gratifying experiences was the participation of five basic school students from the Swedru Salvation Army School for the Deaf in the coding lessons. To ensure their full engagement, Mr. Elidad Senyo Akakpo, a sign language interpreter, conveyed the content to them throughout the session. Witnessing their active involvement and learning despite their hearing impairment brought immense joy and pride.

This meaningful inclusion of students with special needs was a testament to the institute’s unwavering commitment to support and promote inclusivity in all its forms. Regardless of gender, social status, physical disabilities, or any other factors, IIPGH is determined to create an environment where everyone could benefit from our workshops. This accomplishment marked another significant milestone in its journey towards fostering an inclusive learning space that embraces and empowers individuals from all walks of life.

Early Childhood ICT Education.

IIPGH is an organization with several years of experience in Early Childhood ICT Education. With its “Coding Education for Ghana Program”, it is in the best position to contribute to ensuring that all schools (private and public), actively embrace coding. As always, it was intentional in its approach to the whole training. From the kind of facilitators selected to train the teachers and students based on the skills required to make learning effective for both groups, to the whole execution of the project. It is therefore no surprise that the Institute is always commended by beneficiary communities.

The Institute therefore calls on both private and public organizations, and relevant stakeholders, donors, both local and the international community, to assist the Institute in this transformative agenda it is embarking on.

Author: Deborah Ofori-Dartey, Digital Skills Training Supervisor, IIPGH

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