On the Road with CodeBus Africa

March 17, 2017

We just can’t tell you in thousand words how excited we are about CodeBus Africa!

The project, that is currently on the road in Uganda, is teaching basic programming skills to local youngsters in dozens of workshops held in 10 African countries.

Back in January, we interviewed Irena Bakić (Project Lead at CodeBus Africa) about the expectations of the whole project as they were still preparing and planning the trip. Mehackit is one of the partners of the project and the CodeBus Africa workshops are based on our “Music programming with Sonic Pi” workshop.

Now, almost two months later, the journey has started and we had a chance to sit down with Vilma Hämäläinen (Communications Lead at CodeBus Africa) and Jukka Eerikäinen (Workshop Instructor at CodeBus Africa and Mehackit) to discuss their experiences on the first leg of CodeBus Africa in Ghana, Nigeria and Ethiopia. The CodeBus Africa is set to go on until the end of May and the team continues to do workshops in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa.

Jukka and Vilma, I’ve been really excited to follow CodeBus Africa trip in social media, and the energy around it is so positive and tangible. It seems like it is making a huge positive impact! I can imagine you probably feel the same, only in hundredfold. So, what’s your overall vibe so far from the trip?

Jukka: Amazing. Simply amazing. The response to Sonic Pi and the workshops has been overwhelmingly positive, pretty much everyone is having fun, and in the end everyone has learned enough to write something of their own, even the ones with no prior computer experience.

Vilma: Motivated, focused, excited. It’s been very satisfying to see how important the project is to everyone involved, and how the shared ambition has pushed us to do great work together. Most importantly we’ve offered youth a positive experience in creative technology. At the same time we’ve created important connections between African and Finnish people.

Jukka, you’ve been teaching in the workshops. Can you tell us what have the student groups been like?

Jukka: The variety has been huge, from 9-year-olds from outside the official education system who have never used a computer before, much less programmed one, to bearded 18-year-olds from private schools that already have some experience with programming. We even had a pair of around 19-years-old guy and a kid around 10 years, and somehow even that worked out nicely! With Sonic Pi there’s a lot of leeway designing the structure: what to take in and what to leave out.

What is the most heartwarming moment you remember from the trip?

Jukka: So hard to pick just one! One of the first moments that truly stuck with me was in the very first workshop in Accra, when the students got some melodies going for the first time and they really really wanted to show them to everyone, to each other and to the instructors. No need to ask if I could listen to what you’ve created, they were so proud of their work – and rightly so!

Vilma: We had quite a touching debrief on our last day in Ghana. We’d pulled off a fantastic week together and our local partner STEMbees had been able to network on ministry level, which was very valuable for their future plans. Emotions were high and everyone kept swallowing their tears. I also remember one workshop participant saying, when asked about what she will remember from the workshop, “I will never forget Madam Anniina.” This goes to show that Mehackit and Aalto have put together a fantastic bunch of instructors 🙂

What is your biggest learning experience from CodeBus?

Vilma: On a personal level CodeBus has reminded me of how exciting teamwork can be. The high you get out of coming together under pressure is sweet and the experience teaches you a lot.

Jukka: I think one of the biggest eye-openers to me personally was that background, when it comes to using computers and smartphones and whatever, doesn’t really seem to affect learning speed all that much! I mean, sure, the ones who are not all that proficient with computers will type a lot slower, but that’s not where the most time is spent anyway. The amount of time it takes to pick up and understand the core concepts seems to be pretty much the same within an age group.

Thanks for your time Vilma and Jukka, it has been a pleasure talking with you and have your insight in the workshops and the whole project! The future of CodeBus Africa certainly looks bright, and we wish the project and the remaining workshops all the best!

Mehackit is an official partner in CodeBus Africa, a project coordinated by Aalto Global Impact.