Back in September, Cause4 CEO Michelle Wright travelled to California as part of the Silicon Valley Comes to the UK initiative, alongside several impressive female-led organisations, one of which was Code Club, represented on the trip by co-founder Clare Sutcliffe. Cause4 took the opportunity to write a feature on what is an impressive charity, and interview Clare to let us know a little more about coding and the issues around it.
Code Club started in 2012 when Clare and partner Linda Sandvik decided to do something about the fact that children in school were not being taught how to code, with its benefits so apparent: if technology has come to dominate our lives then it would make sense to teach our youngest generations how to shape it. They therefore decided to start Code Club, a place where children would be able to tackle the basics of coding around school, and the initiative has grown to include more than 2000 schools nationally.
The benefits of coding go beyond its practical ones, with research showing that learning how to code also improves children’s likelihood to take initiative, solve problems for themselves and increase their general optimism. It makes sense after this initial learning that children will also show more enthusiasm towards general schooling, an effect many charities based around school schedules may observe, i.e. if children positively associate school with something they enjoy, they are more likely to enjoy the entire week and have better results. Beyond this, with Clare explaining that learning to code is just like learning a new language, children also benefit from developing a new type of thinking, with the advantages of learning languages a well-documented affair.
If some have complained that computers, and more specifically the internet, have shortened children’s (as well as adults’) attention spans, Clare outlines that although children need a balance in life, she would rather pupils learn how to design a game than play it, or design a website instead of being encapsulated by it.
The Code Club team write ‘projects’ for the after-school sessions, which keep children challenged for the duration of the session. Clare tells me they use Scratch to teach basics initially and then move on to HTML and CSS as learning advances, with the club then moving on to more complex programming languages such as Python. Through all these different languages children have fun and develop a vivid interest in coding.
Code Club runs as a franchise, meaning that any volunteer is able to set up a club, and this is partly why Code Club has grown so rapidly and expanded across the country. The charity helps volunteers approach a selected school and the programme starts once everybody is on board, running for an hour on a weekly basis. I asked Clare if the charity had encountered any issues with quality control, and thus with fundraising, as it could be thought that funders would be reluctant to fund such a model. I am told that this hasn’t really caused many issues; all volunteers have to go through mandatory training and thus a level of consistency is ensured.
A few writers recently have debated whether everybody, including politicians, needs to learn coding as technology has come to dominate our lives: Clare does not agree that this should be the case but seeking out expertise from those that can code is obviously important in setting policy and developing new initiatives. Clare recommends a few places where keen adults can learn to code, such as Decoded, Makers Academy or General Assembly.
With Code Club aiming to be present in 25% of primary schools by 2015 and poised for international expansion, the charity seems to be on track to have a serious impact on education and the future of the country. Beyond its impact around technology, the organisation presents a great example to the rest of the charitable sector; a charity which has grown exponentially in just two years, has had an enormous impact on society’s future and has expanded through a franchise volunteer model which reduces costs and allows for a higher impact, applicable to different locations around the world.
Thank you very much to Clare for her interview. We’d love to hear from you if you have experience of Code Club or other models making an impact on technology education in the sector.