Tunisian youth are hard at work making their country a better place as part of their civic contribution. It’s inspiring to watch as the initiatives that these young leaders have put in place flourish and improve their country.
Kyane Kassiri is one such young leader, and he is the co-founder of the Young Tunisian Coders Academy, one of the initiatives making a mark in the country.
Could you briefly give us an idea about Young Tunisian Coders Academy [YTCA]. How it started and what was the inspiration behind establishing it?
YTCA is a youth-led organization with a mission of democratizing coding for kids in Tunisia.
We started in 2015 after winning a grant from the US Department of State to implement our idea. The first step was researching what tools and technologies were available that we could use to teach coding for kids. We chose Scratch, which is a visual programming tool developed by MIT, to train kids aged 10 to 15 in 11 cities and 23 out of 24 states in Tunisia. The kids did not have any technical skills or coding experience, so the training introduced them to programming and developed their interest in the field.
So how do you follow up with these participants?
The trainings are just one step in the process. We then organized regional competitions, and the winners were invited to the national Scratch competition. 80 kids competed for the title of The Best Videogame Coder in Tunisia. The competition will be held annually starting this year. When the kids we train ask what the next step is, we tell them to get ready for the competition, and this motivates them even more.
I’ve noticed that YTCA activities didn’t stop even during the summer break. Tell us more about your recent activities.
So after the series of trainings we did on Scratch, we decided to widen our scope to include other aspects of technology, such as robotics. We are using Scratch for arduinos and MIT's App Inventor to teach application design as well.
We also widened our participants age range. Kids from the age of 7 years old can now participate. We also take part in Tunirobots, the national robotics event, and we organize, Tunirobots Juniors, the junior edition.
Our big summer project is the YTCA Summer Camp in Kelibia. It’s a fully immersive five-day program where kids can learn to code while having fun in the sand, and they certainly enjoy it! This year we had 2 main tracks - video gaming and robotics, along with other fun and educative programmes.
We also partnered with DigitalMania, the first video gaming studio in Tunisia, to get the kids to enjoy their first virtual reality experience. This unique experience motivated them even more for the final day - project demonstration and pitching.
During the camp, the kids worked on projects that combined technology and community service. They also learned about the entrepreneurial side of tech and startups, and they came up with presentations to give to the committee during the pitch.
Impressive! What’s next for YTCA?
The next big thing is Africa Code Week. ACW is a huge initiative by ASP as part of their social responsibility vision. This year, YTCA has been chosen to implement the project in Tunisia. It's a 2-step process. First, workshops for trainers will be held until the end of September, and after that, the Africa Code Week 2016 will run from October 15 – 23.
The goal is to train more than 150,000 kids in 30 African countries how to code. Application for trainers are already open, and we hope to reach 300 trainers around the country.
As a whole, how do you see your efforts impacting the digital future of Tunisia?
In YTCA, we believe that technology should be accessible for everyone. Tunisia’s emerging generation has huge potential, not only technologically speaking but also from an entrepreneurship point of view. We need to empower these kids.
In simple terms, writing and reading were the essentials for past generations. Writing, reading and coding are our generation’s essentials.
Education should always be a top priority, and governments everywhere need to get involved to make sure that initiatives like this leave a lasting impact. There’s nothing more inspiring than young citizens taking initiative and making contributions that matter. YTCA is one more example to keep an eye on!