Teens test out tech skills
When Notre Dame High School students Erica Tan and Filsan Nur started a project to make a mobile app, they had no idea how to code software.
But two semesters later, the 16-year-old girls were making slices of cheese and tomatoes, leaves of lettuce and buns and patties fly across the screen of a BlackBerry Playbook tablet in their game, Burger Party.
Behind the images of fast-food snacks that make up their burger-building game are complex lines of code the girls learned how to write thanks to resources and mentoring through the TechU.me program.
“We were coming in in Grade 10 with no idea how to code or anything like that, so this was all trial and error for us,” Filsan said.
TechU.me, which kicked off in 2012 with almost $1 million in funding from FedDev Ontario, the federal government’s economic development branch for southern Ontario. It brings together tech companies that provide software and mentors to students enrolled in computer and communications technology courses at local high schools.
Filsan and Erica are two of the 13,000 students who’ve been exposed to the basics of computer programming through their school curriculum since the program began. TechU. me’s mentoring program has expanded from four to 55 schools in those two years, assisting 2,000 students.
In the schools it’s been offered, enrollment in computer science and communications technology courses has gone up 35 per cent. That shows the program is increasing awareness about the importance of tech skills and the job opportunities available to young people, said Steve Evraire, TechU.me’s director.
In the future, TechU. me wants to partner with Labour Market Ottawa to get more information about tech careers into high schools.
“In many cases, students, parents and even sometimes guidance counsellors are unaware of some of the really, really interesting careers that are available,” Evraire said.
But the fundamental goal isn’t just to get kids coding, he said. It’s to re-imagine how students acquire key skills they’ll need for the job market in the digital age.
Imparting the skills needed for critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity is just as important, he said.
Sometimes TechU.me’s resources and mentorship are incorporated into a computer science course and some schools run the program as a lunch-hour club.
TechU.me also runs summer technology camps and the App Jam – a contest for high-school students who enter their creations and win scholarships and $1,000 prizes.
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