Partnering to support Europe’s youth: An interview with CoderDojo Foundation CEO Mary Moloney

Today we announced that we are embarking on an important new European partnership with CoderDojo, the global network of free, volunteer-led, community-based programming clubs for young people. We are also announcing the renewal of our existing partnerships with two pan-European youth organisations: JA Europe, and Telecentre Europe. You can read more about today’s announcement here and here.

We’re pleased to have the opportunity to talk with Mary Moloney, CoderDojo Foundation CEO about the new partnership with Microsoft and CoderDojo’s role in helping European youth discover and develop their coding skills.

Mary, tell us more about CoderDojo. What is CoderDojo and how is it unique?

CoderDojo is a global open-source movement of free, volunteer-led programming clubs for young people aged from 7 to 17. At a Dojo, young people learn how to code, develop websites, apps, programs, games and explore technology and lots more! There is a focus on community, peer learning, youth mentoring and self-led learning with an emphasis on openness, helping others and showing how coding and technology are positive forces for change in the world.

There are currently 468 active CoderDojo Dojos in Europe, reaching about 22,000 European kids and young people on a regular basis. The movement has grown from being just an idea in June 2011 to being the only truly global kids coding club movement in 2015.

Why is CoderDojo partnering with Microsoft here in Europe?

We were delighted to have been selected by Microsoft as one of their chosen YouthSpark partners. One of the first Corporate hosted Dojos was set up at Microsoft’s offices in Dublin a couple of years ago, so Microsoft has a very direct and clear understanding of what CoderDojo is about and the positive impact that we can jointly have on kids.

What are the benefits of this partnership for European youth?

Through Microsoft and CoderDojo collaborating at a European level, we’ll jointly be able to better promote CoderDojo and to encourage and support the creation of new Dojos across the region. CoderDojo will also be able to tap into Microsoft’s more than 25,000 employees across Europe as mentors who will support existing Dojos and facilitate in the establishment and hosting of new Dojos.

All European CoderDojos, existing and new, will be provided with access to Microsoft’s DreamSpark program – this means that every Dojo will have direct access to all of Microsoft’s professional development and design tools and platforms at no charge.

So, all existing European youth involved with have better access to some cool technology tools and we’ll also be able to reach and engage with a larger number of young people around Europe.

Given your role, you have a great view into how digital training and digital skills development help youth, for example in encouraging them to create their own opportunities for success, building confidence and mentoring others. Can you share with us some examples of what you’ve seen within the CoderDojo community here in Europe?

My own journey from being a law graduate to becoming a consultant with Accenture involved learning how to code myself when I learned how to code in Cobol, eventually becoming a Cobol Architect in my first couple of years at Accenture. It wasn’t the most exciting introduction to technology and at the time the tools to learn about coding weren’t particularly interactive or stimulating. The learning tools and technologies available to learn coding these days are much more fun and exciting and make it easy to build technology skills.

My own 8 year and 10 year old boys attend Dojos and have recently transitioned from coding in Scratch to coding in HTML and CSS. When I hear them, at such young ages, discussing the merits and uses of HTML vs Scratch vs CSS, I’m quite astounded! When they were younger they had great fun creating in Minecraft and using their Xbox and Kinect and continue to be big fans, getting to build games and websites on their own has taken this initial interest to the next level.

All over Europe there are kids and young people developing great skills, insight and understanding of technology and in many cases producing very sophisticated products. Young people also very frequently demonstrate a concern for social challenges and empathy for others. We’ve had kids build websites, apps and games tackling big topics like dyslexia, recycling, bullying, e-commerce, health, stress, obesity, preparing for state exams, electric cars and bio diversity! At a number of Dojos, the kids themselves run the Dojos and provide all the mentoring themselves. We’ve also seen kids learn how to work remotely and collaboratively with kids from other geographic locations, getting hands-on experience on how technology work can be borderless and on how by working together in teams they can achieve even more than by working alone.

This Thursday, April 23, is International Girls in ICT Day. Can you tell us what CoderDojo offers to girls and young women?

CoderDojo is fully inclusive – all kids and young people are encouraged to attend and to actively participate. More than 30% of kids attending currently are girls, which is a higher proportion than is achieved at any other technology formal course or informal meet up.

At CoderDojo’s own annual international coding competition, “Coolest Projects”, over 28% of the competitors were female. Girls are guided in creating technology and working on projects that interest them, whether these are apps, websites or games or incorporate wearable technology, robotics or 3-D printing. Another element that really has a positive impact on encouraging girls to get involved is the involvement and visibility of other female role models, many of our adult and young mentors are female.

We were delighted when our 11 year old coder, Lauren from Dublin, was awarded European Digital girl of the year in 2014. Seeing other girls enjoy technology and create technology certainly inspires others to get involved. We have a few all girl Dojos as well to facilitate girls who want to build some confidence and skill in technology before joining our mixed Dojos. Other girls as young as 12, including Tyriah from Oxford, have championed starting their own Dojos; supporting, encouraging and empowering girls to take an active roles in Dojos makes a real difference in attracting other girls to explore technology.

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