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eKids Volunteers: 10+ Years of Teaching Coding to Help Kids Develop Skills for the Future

Interview

For several years, we’ve been building a community that encourages children to explore software engineering through the Scratch platform. The eKids program wouldn’t be what it is today without our 750+ volunteers spanning 14 countries and spending 31,000+ hours helping local children build a solid foundation of coding skills preparing them for the future. 

Last summer, we spoke with several eKids and asked them about their experience with the program. Now, we’re featuring volunteers in a series that shares their dedication to and enthusiasm for teaching EPAM eKids:

Why did you decide to volunteer for EPAM eKids?

Ghezal Akrami Ayub (Canada): I want to inspire kids to seek careers in computer science/IT.

Alejandra Sabadin (Canada): I like to get involved in CSR initiatives as a way to give back to the community and network with like-minded people. The eKids program seemed like a great opportunity to do just that.

Gordon Mullan (UK): I love to speak, train and coach in general, so the UK CSR coordinator at the time asked if I’d be interested in applying those skills to the eKids program. I was delighted to have an opportunity to help kids develop tech skills, so of course I said yes!

Can you tell me what the eKids workshops are like? 

Ghezal Akrami Ayub (Canada): Kids usually want to know about what we do at EPAM, and how they can build careers in computer science and IT. These workshops help them connect their work with how they can learn other programing languages.

Alejandra Sabadin (Canada): eKids workshops are fun. The kids are curious and very smart. During the first session, we help them get started by setting up their accounts and showing them the basics of using the Scratch platform. They quickly learn how to navigate the site, so follow-up sessions are very hands-on.

Gordon Mullan (UK): At the start of the program, some of the kids are unsure what to expect. Throughout the course of the workshop, their enthusiasm grows and the kids become more engaged. By the end, the kids have loads of energy, and even volunteer to answer questions and show their work – it’s amazing!  

How easy is it for people with non-tech backgrounds to learn the Scratch program?

Ghezal Akrami Ayub (Canada): Scratch is a very easy program. Video tutorials guide the students along the way, and the drag-and-drop feature makes coding simple. The videos help students learn basic coding concepts, and how to arrange a conditional (if/then) statement, for example. Anyone with a non-tech background can start Scratch.

Alejandra Sabadin (Canada): The program is super easy and it doesn’t require a technical background. Anyone can participate in the program and quickly become familiar with it. Plus, there’s lots of resources and step-by-step tutorials, as well as other EPAM volunteers that have participated in the program before who offer help.

Gordon Mullan (UK): Scratch is very easy to learn!  The online tutorials are excellent, and if you can follow simple logic, you’ll have no problem.

Why is it so important for kids to learn about technology like coding at such a young age and how does Scratch fit in to this initiative?

Ghezal Akrami Ayub (Canada): Kids need to be prepared for a future where everyone knows how to code. We also want to encourage more girls to join the IT industry, and that needs to start from a young age. Scratch teaches universal concepts in coding that are used in different programming languages, such as events, loops and conditional statements. Because it’s a highly interactive program, Scratch is a valuable tool to teach kids coding. It also helps us convey our message to kids at a young age that the IT industry is not a complicated one, and they should not be afraid to join.

Alejandra Sabadin (Canada): It’s important for kids to get a well-rounded education, and this includes learning about technology. eKids gives children the opportunity to get an early introduction to computer programming so that they can develop problem-solving skills and creative thinking, and maybe even consider a career in technology! Scratch is simple and engaging. It also gives kids the ability to share their work with their friends, which fosters collaboration and gets them excited to continue working on more advanced modules.

Gordon Mullan (UK): No matter what kids do in the future, it is almost certain that they will be in contact with computers. Most of them carry one around in their pocket every day! Even if they aren’t going to be programming devices themselves, understanding how computers “think” and the things they allow you to do is a vital skill for everyone. Scratch is easy to use, quick to get results and very visual.  There’s lots of help, and lots of opportunity to create something very personalized, that you can easily share with others

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that kids and educators face today in a technology-driven world?

Ghezal Akrami Ayub (Canada): They do not know what is going on in the industry or what roles and jobs are available. To them, computer science and IT means non-stop coding. When we talk to them about our industry, they seem very interested and listen attentively.

Alejandra Sabadin (Canada): In my opinion, designing a curriculum to better prepare kids to succeed in today’s world is perhaps the biggest challenge that educators face. The world is rapidly changing, and educators must provide students with the right mix of knowledge and tools.

Gordon Mullan (UK): Educators face a challenge in getting kids to understand that programming skills apply to everyone. For example, even if people don’t program computers themselves, everyone should still understand how computers work. For kids, it’s about providing the opportunity to do something practical, useful and fun with their skills, and experience creating a program that does something.

What are some of your favorite moments as an eKids volunteer and what is the most impressive thing you’ve seen the students accomplish?

Ghezal Akrami Ayub (Canada): I have seen kids eager to attain all of the levels and finish all of the activities. They review other projects and show a lot of interest to improve theirs too.

Alejandra Sabadin (Canada): One of the most impressive things that I’ve seen during the program was one of the kids who programmed a small video game. He was playing it with his friends, laughing and having a lot of fun!

Gordon Mullan (UK): My favorite moments are always seeing the shy kid receive praise and applause from the other kids for what they’ve created. The most impressive thing I’ve seen was a student create a complex, animated game – it had the makings of a simple, commercially-viable game!

There are more insights from our eKids volunteers to come. Stay tuned for the next installment of this series!

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