Code Kids is improving access for children (10-15 years old) from rural and small urban areas to digital training through community-based coding clubs, hosted by rural libraries or by local volunteers, such as local teachers and organizations.
Although born and raised in a digitalized world, children today aren`t necessarily digitally literate1. Acquiring digital skills such as algorithmic thinking, content production, teamwork, problem solving, and others requires a structured, long-term educational process2. This is particularly true in Romania, according to Eurostat, in 2019, we were on the last position in Europe with only 56% of young people (16-24 years old) with basic or above basic digital skills (the EU average share being 80%).
Moreover, Romania has a severe digital gap between rural and urban area. More than 50%4 of Romanian children live and study in small urban and rural communities where access to technology and digital education is scarce. This divide became even more important in the context caused by the COVID-19 crisis when lack of access to technology and digital skills impedes the access to education altogether.
Since 2017, Fundația Progress has been implementing Code Kids program with the mission to improve access to digital education in rural areas and small towns. Code Kids is designed as a community-based model providing a two-year digital education course for children aged 10-15, via coding clubs hosted by local public libraries.
It all started in village in Vâlcea, Pietrari, where, after a successful participation to the competition Hour of code, the library created a weekly club for coding using resources available online. Building on the know-how and infrastructure created through the Biblionet Program (2009-2015) funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Progress Foundation developed a network of Code Kids clubs in libraries. Now the deployment of the program is facilitated by over 200 librarians which received training on how to include coding clubs as a library service.
Following lessons learned in the previous years and having a better understanding of the program vulnerabilities after facing the COVID-19 educational crisis, Fundația Progress aims to continue the consolidation and growth of the program on the following directions:
(1) Consolidate the educational content of the program with better alignment with European Commission framework for digital competence5;
(2) Extend the number of CK clubs active in small communities, by including new local libraries in the program, and by opening a new line of volunteer-led clubs;
(3) Reinforce regional coordination of CK clubs by investing in the creation of a network of intermediary coordinators (county libraries or regional organizations) trained to coordinate clubs, to better communicate about the program, to organize local events with the financial support of Fundația Progress (small grants) and other resources attracted locally;
(4) Develop a community of IT expert volunteers (professionals and CK alumni) able and willing to create educational content for CK clubs on the long term;
(5) Ensuring the necessary financial support for the program, attracting resources on both local and national levels, by reinforcing partnerships with the business environment and by advocating local authorities.
In terms of impact evaluation, Fundația Progress will contract out an evaluation on the digital skills of children involved in the program and measure the effect that CK clubs have on these specific competences. The methodology will consist of pre and post assessment of children’s skills (using a representative sample of program participants) compared to the average of a representative group for the same age for rural areas.