UNESCO laureate in Sri Lanka is building girls’ confidence through coding
Despite prolonged school closures, 14-year-old Diyathma (pictured) and 12-year-old Shashadara, both from Sri Lanka, have become rising stars in coding during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thanks to the UNESCO Prize for Girls' and Women's Education laureate, the Shilpa Sayura Foundation, and its winning programme, NextGen Girls in Technology, both girls discovered a passion for coding while stuck at home.
As Poornima Meegammana, Shilpa Sayura Foundation’s Director of Youth Development says, the NextGen Girls’ in Technology programme was quick to modify their workshops and has pioneered the delivery of online learning and training in Sri Lanka since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their courses are designed to empower girls and women through the development of their digital skills covering everything from the Internet of Things (IoT), computer programming and manga art and have now reached almost 2,500 primary and secondary school level students and over 500 teachers since the beginning of the pandemic.
Building girls’ confidence one coding challenge at a time
For Poornmina, the online coding courses they have offered as part of the NextGen Girls in Technology Programme are leading the way when it comes to fighting the prevailing mindset in Sri Lanka that information communication technology (ICT) is hard, especially for girls.
She says that central to the programme’s success is their ‘Master Challenge’ which organizes fun exercises using Scratch (an online coding platform for kids). These are completed outside of class time and provide an opportunity to students to put the skills they’ve been taught into practice.
“We designed the Master Challenge to be self-paced and fun, but also competitive. As students complete the various challenges, they gain points to progress through 5 increasingly difficult levels in order to earn the title ‘Grand Master’ which is officially awarded at an online ceremony attended by all our students at the end of each semester”, says Poornima and adds:
“The ‘Master Challenge’ has really helped to build girls’ confidence and to engage and motivate them to continue to build their coding skills. We are seeing more and more girls actively participating in and excelling at all of the Foundation’s programmes, including the annual hackathons. Before, they might never have dared to enter into these”.
Meet Shashadara and Diyathma
For 12-year-old student, Shashadara, the NextGen Girls in Technology classes she took while at home during lockdown have seen her go from a student who was certain ICT was not for her, to a proud Grand Master and a champion coder in her age group.
“Before I did the challenges in Scratch and became a Grand Master, I didn’t think I had many skills but now I’m teaching my little brother how to code, and I have started a coding club with 22 of my friends so that they can become Grand Masters too” says Shashadara.
14-year-old Diyathma, a Grade 9 student from Maharagma, is another one of Shilpa Sayura Foundation’s rising stars. Like Shashadara, she was not sure about taking the NextGen Girls in Technology programme, despite her mother’s encouragement to enroll.
“I was really nervous, I thought ICT was just for boys because they always seemed to find it so easy in class. For me, even the words were new, so I felt lost”, says Diyathma.
She explains that at first, she just listened to the classes but when starting the Grand Master exercises in Scratch, she got completely into it and didn’t see the time pass.
“I was so proud to win the hackathon coding competition for my age group. Now I will definitely take ICT for my high school exams so that I can study computer programming and ICT at university”, she says.
About the Shilpa Sayura Foundation
The Shilpa Sayura Foundation was established in 2005 in Sri Lanka to give rural youth and girls digital access to national education and to build their technology skills. Its project NextGen Girls in Technology was awarded the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education in 2020.
About the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education
Established in 2015 with generous funding from the Government of the People’s Republic of China, the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education is granted annually to two laureates and consists of an award of US$50,000 to each laureate to help further their work in the area of girls’ and women’s education.
Selection process for the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education
Gender-responsive STEM education: Empowering girls and women for the jobs of today and tomorrow
Resource Guide: Building girls’ interest in STEM Education (UNESCO, 2019)