Nonprofits launch computer science program for underprivileged students

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Thirty students from Mano Amiga Academy completed the full-day robotics lesson under the DevCon Kids program led by mentors from DevCon Philippines.

TWO nonprofit groups launched recently a computer science program for K-to-12 students from low-income families.

A statement said Mano Amiga Academy (MAA) Inc. and Developers Connect Philippines (DevCon) Inc. partnered to pilot a program, called DevCon Kids, which seeks to impart technology skills to students at an early age. The program led to the formation of a DevCon Club, which now counts 30 members selected from Grades 7 to 9 who possess a certain level of aptitude and knowledge in science and math. Every week, DevCon Kids mentors discuss lessons, such as coding and design thinking, specifically developed for the program.

Mano Amiga Academy Inc. students learned how to assemble and program mBots, which are educational robot kits designed for kids who are just starting to learn about robot software.

One of these mentors is Joel Bautista, who is also a full-time computer science teacher at the Philippine Science High School. A lead instructor for DevCon Kids, Bautista joined the program’s core team because he believed in their advocacy of teaching kids life skills that are beyond the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. 

“We are in the 21st century and we want to instill computer science skills, problem solving, creativity and collaboration in today’s kids,” Bautista said. “Our goals and those of Mano Amiga are parallel—we’re both serving the underserved. We are aware that they don’t have computer labs like other schools do, and it’s DevCon’s way of extending help by teaching these new topics.”

Internet workings

MAA students and DevCon Club members JC Gorgonio and Cheska Andes share their excitement about the program.

Lead Instructor Joel Bautista volunteers for the DevCon Kids program to instill 21st-century skills in underprivileged youth and to bring ICT education closer to them.

Andes has always enjoyed language classes the most, getting her best grades in English and Filipino. After joining DevCon Club, her grades in Math and Science started improving, according to a statement. 

“I signed up for DevCon Club because we don’t have a computer at home and I wanted to know more about how computers and the Internet worked,” Andes said. 

A highlight in the DevCon Kids program is a full-day lesson in robotics. The students were paired up and provided an mBot each. mBots are educational robot kits designed for kids who are just starting to learn about robot software. The students learned how to program their robots and create codes to make them move, transmit a sound if it senses light, navigate and follow a track, and even wrestle against another robot. 

“Honestly, our first few lessons in DevCon Club were really hard. My friends and I almost quit but we kept going because of our cheerful mentors and our supportive student-affairs coordinator,” Gorgonio, a Grade 7 student, said. “We’re also excited for our next lesson on making mobile apps.” 

Continuing efforts

SEEING the success of their pilot program and the positive feedback from the students, MAA and DevCon officers said they plan to continue what they have started to reach more children and expose them to computer science and information technology. 

MAA will continue running DevCon Club, and encourage the older students to transmit their learning to incoming Grades 7 to 9 students. 

According to MAA Executive Director and Founder Lynn Pinugu, DevCon provided all the requirements for the students, “easing their worries over having to acquire the laptops and other equipment themselves.”

“We will replicate DevCon Kids one school at a time, applying insights from the pioneer batch in developing a hybrid program that we will use for future beneficiaries,” DevCon Managing Director Shumate Royo said. “We hope to work with donors as well, as running the program requires a lot of resources—laptops, high-speed WiFi, and a facility conducive to learning.”

Tech-voc track

LAST year, the World Economic Forum ranked the Philippines 53rd among 63 countries in terms of digital competitiveness. A report from the Department of Education (DepEd) said that only 26 percent of public schools in the country have Internet access. 

Add to this picture the fact that the current school curriculum only offers computer programming in senior high school for the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) strand of the technical vocational track. There is also a lack of ICT devices in many schools nationwide as computer laboratories are still being built. 

The quality of ICT education in the Philippines is definitely a pressing concern, with education stakeholders repeatedly calling for capacity-building for teachers, allocating sufficient resources, and partnering with the private sector to accelerate ICT education, the statement read.

Image Credits: Mano Amiga Academy Inc.