Coding For All: Introducing Canada Learning Code
By: Emily Walsh
Associate on Georgian Partners’ Investment Team
Last night in Ottawa we had the pleasure of being involved in the launch of an exciting and important new project:Canada Learning Code. With the aim of giving more Canadians the opportunity to participate in the global digital economy, the project is the next stage in the evolution of the highly successful Ladies Learning Code (LLC). In the five years since it was founded, LLC has helped tens of thousands of Canadians learn the basics of programming and technology.
Having said all of that, I have a confession to make: I can’t actually code myself. In fact, when I first learned that Georgian Partners supports LLC, my first thought was that although I’d love to get involved, I wasn’t sure what could I offer such an amazing organization. After all, LLC already operates in more than 22 cities across Canada. Its hundreds of volunteers have helped deliver thousands of technology education workshops since 2011.
But even without being a coder myself I found out just how much I could offer about a month ago when I volunteered for LLC’s, where girls between the ages of 8 and 13 spent a week brainstorming, developing and designing their own business. Hearing so many young women say they were going to start a tech business was truly a transformative experience for me.
Breaking Down Barriers
One of the reasons why too few Canadians have the technology skills they need is because of the barriers we put up. For women and minorities, in particular, negative messages and stereotypes about technology can stop participation early. For me and for many of the women whom I’ve spoken with, it boils down to one salient memory early in life that cemented the way things are. My moment was in seventh grade when, after getting a lower-than-usual mark in computer lab, I was told, “you don’t need to worry about this class, dear.”
For a close friend, it was in high school calculus. The teacher called all the boys by name, but only referred to her and the two other women in the class as “the ladies,” telling them they could submit one collective answer to questions.
While these may be small moments in life, they have a way of burning themselves into our minds. They make us feel that we’re different, and that it’s just not that important for us to excel in science, technology, engineering, math or any other subject that’s deemed to be the domain of the boys.
Thankfully, as a society we are starting to realize the negative impact that a lack of diversity in the STEM community is having. Research on STEM education enrollment, the disparities in pay between men and women, and the improved business outcomes seen by diverse teams are all factors pushing us to act. Luminaries in philanthropy such as Melinda Gates are putting substantial resources and focus on this subject, and government initiatives such as Canada’s innovation agenda are making it a priority.
At the same time, there’s an opportunity for all of us — even those who can’t code — to help move the ball forward. As a volunteer for LLC, I had the opportunity to help reinforce the message to a 12-year-old girl that yes, of course she could work in tech and start her own business. That message — that anyone can participate in the digital economy — is one that we are very proud to be helping Ladies Learning Code bring to even more people.
Helping 10 Million People in 10 Years
Canada Learning Code builds on the experience of having already delivered tens of thousands of technology education opportunities for youth and women since the first LLC workshop in 2011. Over the next 10 years, Canada Learning Code will create 10 million meaningful technology experiences for any Canadian wanting to be better equipped for what is an increasingly digital and global economy. Each of those educational experiences will move the needle a little bit more and give another Canadian the chance to see what coding is all about.
Over the next few months, Canada Learning Code will be launching new and expanded programs. This will include a mix of the already successful in-person workshops, camps and after-school programs led by LLC, large-scale initiatives such as National Learn to Code Day, new partner-delivered programming, and advocacy efforts to bring coding to the classroom. New initiatives such as Teachers Learning Code will add exponential reach to existing programs through a “train the trainer” model designed to get public school teachers comfortable with passing on coding basics to their students. At the heart of the programs will be the mentor / student relationship and collaborative, hands-on learning for Canadians of all demographics and walks of life.
Ultimately, the goal is to make Canada a more competitive, skilled and diverse place when it comes to our leadership in technology. It’s a cause that we believe has the potential to profoundly change the playing field over the coming decade. Personally, I can’t wait to meet a whole lot more Canadians who want to start a tech business once they’ve had a chance to discover for themselves just what they can do.
But first we need your help. Canada Learning Code is looking for volunteer mentors, partners, locations to host workshops and more. You can reach out to the team via the website at www.canadalearningcode.ca or contact me directly here at Georgian Partners.