10-year-old Matilda knows the code for a future in tech

The loudest of the voices belong to the boys. They lean over each other, showing how loud they can make their game villains, and race across the room, constantly switching desks. The three girls sit quietly, approaching their games with laser focus.

“You can hear the boys … they are a little bit loud in here,” camp manager James Farrell said, at the very moment one boy ignites the room with a sound comparable to the call of a young magpie.

“The girls are highly capable, yet many aren’t interested in coding. This is possibly because of competition; the boys can be sometimes intimidating. But I’ve found that the girls create the better games. Once they get going, they’re the cream of the crop. They are extremely focused.”

Coders develop code that creates functional software, from the social media apps on your phone, to the games on your computer, to the website you’re reading your news on. As coding is behind the platforms we engage with digitally, skilled coders are in high demand.

Yet in Australia, only 16 per cent of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals are women.

Matilda Bowen playing the game she made during the Code Camp at Holy Spirit Primary School.

Matilda Bowen playing the game she made during the Code Camp at Holy Spirit Primary School.Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

In this Canberra classroom, the boys might be the excitable birds in the trees, but the girls are there too; staying put, squirrelling away.

Since beginning in 2013, Code Camp has taught 45,000 kids across 200 schools. They currently have a ratio of “60/40 boys to girls”, but the goal is to bring it to 50/50, with a view of equipping more women for “jobs of the future”.

Over the past decade alone, entirely new jobs have emerged with advancements in technology.

Social media manager, app developer, SEO specialists, are some of the roles which didn’t exist before the early 2000s. And these roles will continue to diversify.

Mr Farrell believes coding education will help these students expand on their future education and employment prospects across broader fields.

“These courses allow children to work through problems, such as the platform offers, plus it has the element of creativity and entrepreneurship.

“So in terms of the future, there are many ways these skills can be applied to jobs.”

Mr Farrell is also a teacher at Holy Spirit, teaching computing to 680 students each week. These lessons involve the code.org platform, and are a compulsory part of the curriculum.

One of his students is 10-year-old Matilda Bowen.

Her favourite school subject is languages, and she’s a lover of all things Korean. She began learning the language at school two years ago and her favourite K-Pop acts are BTS and BLACKPINK. She was even a finalist in a schools K-Pop dance performance in Sydney.

She tried out Code Camp because her eight-year-old brother wasn’t keen on it, but hoped she would test it out first. After the first day, she was hooked. And he’s keen to try it.

“When boys do the coding, they’re, well … not as subtle. They love loud music and use zombie, monster-type of characters in their games. They like gory stuff, and they like to make the games quite difficult,” Matilda said.

“Whereas the girls will make it a bit more subtle. In mine, I have several levels, and it gradually gets more challenging.”

Locals kids as young as five have enrolled in Code Camp courses these school holidays. No experience is required, but in three days they use block coding and javascript. It mightn’t sound like typical school holiday fun, but in the end they get to play video games.

Canberra has proved to be somewhat of a coding hotspot, with the local Code Camp courses attracting more students than anywhere else in Australia.

Serena Coady is a lifestyle reporter at The Canberra Times

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