Girls encouraged to take interest in coding as Region observes Girls in ICT Day 2021

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A senior CARICOM Secretariat official is encouraging young girls to take up an interest in coding, and for the development of the skill at an earlier age, especially at this time when the digital economy is at the forefront.

Ms. Jennifer Britton, Deputy Programme Manager ICT4D at the CARICOM Secretariat, said that the COVID-19 pandemic had forced the Region to innovate and accelerate the implementation of the CARICOM Single ICT Space – the digital arm of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

She was at the time speaking at the launch of Guyanese Girl Code 2021 on Wednesday, 21 April. Guyanese Girls Code is an introductory course in computing intended to engage girls in the field of Computer Science. The course, which is countrywide and begins in August, targets girls between the age of 11 and 15 years old. In particular, it serves as a foundation in computer programming, covering the fundamental concepts of how computers work, as well as techniques for designing and developing computers software.

Posted by Industry and Innovation Unit of the Office of the Prime Minister on Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The programme is being done in collaboration with the University of Guyana, the Industry and Innovation Unit of the Office of the Prime Minister of Guyana as part of the Girls in ICT Day activities under the theme ‘Connected Girls, Creating Brighter Futures’. April 22 is Girls in ICT Day.

Prime Minister of Guyana, the Hon. Brig. (R’td) Mark Phillips, said that the Government was committed to promoting digital literacy and greater inclusion in Information and Communications Technology (ICT). He added that systems would also be in place to support greater access to the internet, and better cybersecurity and data protection legislation.

“Our Government sees it as crucial to enhance the aptitude of our citizens in ICT by promoting digital literacy through STEM training… the way forward for empowering girls in ICT involves the creation of a path that encourages greater education about technology and its role in today’s world,” he said.

Ms. Britton used the opportunity to salute Guyana women pioneers, and congratulate the government of Guyana on the Guyana Girls Code initiative. She also encouraged participants in the initiative to “seize all opportunities afforded through this programme”, to make friends, to ask questions, and not be afraid to fail.

At the launch, she acknowledged the progress of CARICOM Member States in terms of the digital economy, but pointed to the need to nurture the requisite skills to make maximum use of the technologies.

“The countries of CARICOM, of which Guyana is a founding member, were already working on digital economy issues, through the implementation of the CARICOM Single ICT Space.  However, we have been forced to speed up all those activities, if we are going to survive, thrive and flourish in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the world- as developing countries.  The digital economy is now in the forefront –since over the past 12 months – we were forced to buy and sell more, communicate, work, play – with the help of technology

At the launch of Guyanese Girls Code. Top left, clockwise, are Ms. Jennifer Britton, Prime Minister Mark Phillips, Mr. Shahrukh Hussain and Prof. Paloma Mohamed Martin, PhD (Photo via OPM)

“In Guyana, we saw a small explosion of e-services, and from all appearances this is growing steadily.  Guyana continues to move in the right direction, as are most of the CARICOM Countries.  What reports show, however, is that CARICOM countries are falling behind when it comes to having the relevant (modern) skills to do all the things that are needed to make maximum use of the technologies available and to empower and enrich citizens,” she said.

She pointed out that ICT continued to be the fastest growing sector in the world, and that there was accelerated social and economic development in countries where more women and girls joined the workforce in sectors that were supported and dependent on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

According to Ms. Britton, the top jobs for the next ten years are technology-based.

Those skills have to be resident in the people of Guyana. Women and girls make up just a little over half of the population of Guyana, so if we are not utilising our women and girls in all sectors, we are losing half of the possibility and opportunity. Every person counts in Guyana since the population is quite small. Those relevant, digital skills have to be cultivated and encouraged throughout the population,” she said.

She added that there was research consensus that girls should start coding at around age seven, and that this presented a large field of potential coders “if we start from the kindergarten and primary levels to infuse those skills into the learning curriculum”. At its simplest and most positive level, ICT was a problem solver and understanding coding was one of the steps to that problem solving, Ms. Britton pointed out. 

She described coding as the way “we communicate with computers, and what we use to build and run websites, and video games. Coding is what drives our favourite apps – Youtube, Snapchat, Xbox One, Instragram, Facebook to name a few. Just as we learned to communicate in one or more languages. And just like with any other language; the earlier you learn to code -the easier it will be. “

The launch featured remarks by Prof. Paloma Mohamed Martin, PhD, Vice Chancellor of the University of Guyana, Ms. Penelope DeFreitas, Computer Science Department Lecturer, University of Guyana, and Mr. Shahrukh Hussain, Director, Industry and Innovation Unit, Office of the Prime Minister.

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