Teaching Kids how to Code with Caleb Ndaka
Episode #4 Published Wednesday, July 15, 2020
This week, I'm talking with Caleb Ndaka, about his Kids Comp Project that he uses to teach kids how to code.
This episode is brought to you by me. If you like this show and want to support it, please visit my courses on Pluralsight and buy my new book "200 Things Developers Should Know", which is about Programming, Career, Troubleshooting, Dealing with Managers, Health, and much more. You can find my Pluralsight courses and the book at www.developerweeklypodcast.com/About
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- Windows Insider Feature of Caleb Ndaka
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Barry Luijbregts 0:17
Welcome to another episode of Developer Weekly. This week, I’m talking with Caleb Ndaka about teaching kids how to code. Caleb is a co-founder at Kids Comp Camp. Caleb Ndaka is a 2019 Obama Leader, a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow, a 2017 Microsoft’s Windows #Insider4Good fellow and a 2015 American Express and Ashoka Emerging Innovator. He is also a TEDx speaker and a part-time actor. Great to have you on the show, Caleb, how you doing?
In your bio, it says that you are a 2019 Obama leader. Can you tell me a bit about what that means?
Caleb Ndaka 1:48
Obama foundation runs a program called Africa leadership program in which they try to bring young African leaders together to have conversation today. Your support system for each other in order to create proactive and authentic leaders in Africa, because they do believe that the greatest gap we have in Africa is not about resources. It's about leadership. And so they believe invest in the young leaders so that they can build and change their communities.
Barry Luijbregts 2:23
Right. That's incredible. Okay, so tell me a little bit more about yourself, like, where you from and how you got into software development.
Caleb Ndaka 2:33
Great. Thank you for that question. I was born in North rift Kenya in a small slump called landers. And then soon after we moved to South Eastern Kenya, a small village called kV and that's where I grew up. I went to school there, up until I went to college when they got to come to the city of Nairobi. So generally Mama Mama village boy Who, by chance got into technology got into software development. Part of that story is between high school and college, I was out of school for four years. And the reason for that is because my parents could not afford my quality education. But then four years later, as more opportunity open to join one of the local University School of computer science and information technology, and I started with a certificate cause in it, then I proceeded to a diploma course in it, then eventually graduated with a bachelor's degree in it. And with that background, I was able to be introduced now to to software development and the passion to teach kids especially in rural areas, how they can learn about our not just to use technology, but to develop technology for themselves and for their communities.
Barry Luijbregts 3:56
So that they are actually creators and can create things for other people as well.
Caleb Ndaka 4:01
Yes, not just consumers, but also but also creators. But also, because I do believe change from within is a more sustainable change. And so having rural communities embracing technology for themselves, creating technology for themselves, is a dream that I hold very dear to my heart. And that's what I live for every day to see how can we, how can we equip them better to know how to use technology to address the most pressing issues in their communities?
Barry Luijbregts 4:34
Right. And that's a very powerful thought, I think, as in to get the power from within and not be reliable. From all these other big companies from the United States and from Europe and all over the world, but to build your own strength, yes.
Caleb Ndaka 4:49
change from within power from the from within is the most powerful energy employee they never gave to people.
Barry Luijbregts 4:57
So random question, what is the internet It like over there. Oh, is it fast or is it limited?
Caleb Ndaka 5:03
Oh great. Like I mentioned I come from Kenya and in the last five to 10 years Kenya as witnessed a very fast growing internet penetration. And so we can say like three quarters of the country you can get stable internet connection. And that is what we are leveraging on to create our program. So we have pretty good internet, it could get better back with what we have. We can also do some meaningful stuff.
Barry Luijbregts 5:33
And is it expensive?
Caleb Ndaka 5:36
According to the surveys which have been done in Africa, again, Kenya, we have the lowest rates of of accessing to the to the to the internet. But the thing also is the economic power for most people, is not that strong. So it is relatively cheap but Not very cheap to the majority of people and especially to the majority of people who live in rural communities whom we we solve,
Barry Luijbregts 6:07
That can be a problem, I imagine. Yes. Okay, so Well, let's talk about the thing I wanted to talk with you about about kids comp camp. So I saw this online and I was very interested in how it got started and why you started it and how it actually works. Can you tell me a bit more about why you started and what it is?
Caleb Ndaka 6:29
Yeah. So kids comp comp, is an initiative to help children in rural communities in Africa to catch up with a current digital driven society. And the way it began, it was a random idea. on a road trip. I was just about to graduate from the University and a few friends asked me if we could do a road trip and we said our boat we do that road trip with laptops in our bucks and go look for I don't know school in a village And to teach those kids out to use computers. That was in April of 2014. And so we did a rotary, we carried our laptops and we found a school in one of the rural counties in the in Kenya. The first class, we had 30 kids, but it is what shook us. Out of the 30 kids, only three kids, I'd seen a laptop before. And we were like, shocked. We thought like computers and access to technology is is a thing for everyone. Only that we realized we were only reserved from, from our band kind of setting. And so that was like, the glaring gaps that we saw, and we felt like we need to do more, we need to come back and do more and more, and 2014 to right now we've been able to train over 10,000 children, both here in Kenya and also in Rwanda. 90% of those kids, this was their first time to use computers, and 54% they were girls.
Barry Luijbregts 8:08
Wow, that is amazing. And and what what kind of ages do you teach? What? How old are the kids?
Caleb Ndaka 8:15
So we get between 8 years old to 18 years old. So, according to the Kenyan education system that is about primary school and high school,
Barry Luijbregts 8:29
and do you then also teach adults?
Caleb Ndaka 8:32
Um, yes, like I've mentioned, we started in 2014. So it's been almost five to six years. And one of the things that we realized, like three years into the program was that kids, especially in Africa, don't make decisions. The decision makers are parents and teachers, and therefore we thought, in order to make our program more sustainable, we need to involve the parents. We need to involve the teacher So apart from just the core business of train kids, we've started another supportive program to train their teachers and to train their parents so that they know the benefits. And also they have the the basics of becoming like a support system to this kids. So yes, we do have a program for children. And we also have a program for adult but especially adults around the kids that we're trying to reach out to where basically the parents and teachers,
Barry Luijbregts 9:30
To get their buy in and to make them help the kids. It's a very clever, so can can every kids just join or how does it work? What What skills do kids and or adults need in order to participate in the competition
Caleb Ndaka 9:46
so kids could come targets children and adults with no prior exposure to computers or technology, and therefore we start with them from ground zero. We don't require any scale Or an experience, what we just ask of them is that they need to be enthusiastic to learn. So no prior skills or knowledge is required, because we were trying to get our kids and parents who have not had access to computers or technology. And so we begin with them from ground zero.
Barry Luijbregts 10:19
So you you completely start at the beginning as in this is a laptop.
Caleb Ndaka 10:26
And that is a computer. This is a mouse This is are you right click this is click, we basically begin by bailing confidence just as I want any digital device.
Barry Luijbregts 10:38
That is amazing. And do most of the participants. Have they seen other devices like phones, for instance?
Caleb Ndaka 10:46
Oh, well, they're the data that we have so far is at 90% of the 10,000 plus beneficiaries of the program. This was their first attempt to use their computers. But when it comes to access to mobile devices, As the number changes a bit, we can almost say like 40% of them actually have access to, to a feature phone. And maybe 30% 20% of us have access to a smartphone. So more people right now they have access to mobile devices, but computers still as cost resource in the rural communities in Kenya.
Barry Luijbregts 11:29
So it's really mobile first. Yeah. And then some, some kids will have have had access to the internet through mobile phones, I guess. The kids come in with no experience. They learn all this stuff from you, and what do they take away when they're done? What are the skills that they have?
Caleb Ndaka 11:46
Great. That's a great question. So over time, we've been we've been trying to modify our curriculum to really meet the felt needs of these kids. And we've divided our curriculum into three big blocks. The first block is what to call get started and get started, like you've mentioned is trying to build confidence of this kid around to these machines I would do up in a computer how do you use the basics of that of that computer? How would you build clear audience around any device and the next big block is what to call get productive. Now that you know how to use our computer, how can you become more productive doing your your duties and in that time, also teach them how to access the internet, how to use productive programs like Microsoft Office, and other programs which they can use in their in their daily their daily lives. And then the last big block is what to call like, Get creative, which is a big block for us. And that's where we where we introduce them, introduce them now to Cody and just bring that whole notion of you do not To be a consumer of technology, you can be a creator of technology. Yeah. So those big blocks, it's our we we try to align our curriculum, get started, get productive and great creative.
Barry Luijbregts 13:14
That's great, especially that you didn't end with the empowerment of you can do it yourself. You can just type in some text on the screen and some magic happens somewhere. And somebody can press a button and something Yes,
Caleb Ndaka 13:27
for sure. For sure. One of the mentality that you've been trying to fight, especially in the rural communities that we work is that most people view technology as a concept of the West. Great. Most people think that technology is something which comes from elsewhere, and we just use it. So we are trained to change that and especially to this young kid as they grow up to take up their careers to choose up their studies to show them technology is just like a pen is a toy, which you can use to rights rights. And so technology is a tool they can use to, to empower themselves is a tool that they can use to empower their community is something that they can they can use for their for their better days to come.
Barry Luijbregts 14:15
Right. So yeah, it's not only just skills, but it's mostly also attitude and confidence
Caleb Ndaka 14:21
a lot, a lot. And let me tell you, that's something that we I didn't know when we were starting out, I thought like, we only need to give these kids skills, but then realize when those skills they land on not very prepared attitudes, then these in mice that you can, you can do and that's why we returned also to work in the in the mind and attitude change as much as we are giving them skills that they need for 21st century.
Barry Luijbregts 14:50
So let's circle back a little bit. You said that one of the parts is then also to teach the kids how to use the internet. Now, I have to Young kids, and the oldest one is four. So she's not really understanding what the internet is, luckily for me, but I'm already dreading the time where she can actually access the internet and look stuff up. Because, you know, how do you guard them from the internet and all the bad stuff that you can find on there? And how do you make sure that they know what is real and what isn't real? Because there's so much stuff on there that is just non information and things that are just false? Yeah. Do you teach about that?
Caleb Ndaka 15:32
Yes. online safety is a big thing to us. In 2016, I was able to attend the Internet Governance Forum in Mexico. And that's one of the things that I came out with that on in safety is not just a thing for the first world right after ro internet. Internet is threatening the cup like we've been saying, internet is making us to be a global village. So wherever Are you accessing the internet from my village in kaisi or whether you're in Netherlands like you are, as long as you can access the internet, then we are in one space, we are in one ecosystem. And therefore we we tend to be very intentional about online safety. And part of that is teaching teachers and parents how they can become informed guardians when it comes to internet use, right? Um, yeah, the thing about them, most of the population that we're dealing with is that most of them they do not accept the internet while at home. Most of them as the internet, were there, were they in school, or were they now a program. And that's a very big advantage to us, because we become like the first people to give them an introduction to the internet. And so therefore, we believe that I just given this kids putting into to know this is useful. It is not giving these kids an opportunity to know how they can protect themselves on very basic, but yet critical levels. That's something that we are we are very keen on trying to integrate, actually to each and every component of our of our curriculum.
Barry Luijbregts 17:20
Right. Yeah. And then you get the advantage of catching them in the beginning where they first start to learn to access the internet.
Caleb Ndaka 17:27
Yes, yes. And that's that's very important, because their first experience forms a big a big notion of the entire experience being online. Absolutely.
Barry Luijbregts 17:39
Yeah. All right. So and then you start to teach them how to code. So what do you use for coding, what kind of languages and tools we use?
Caleb Ndaka 17:48
Yeah. So like I mentioned, we target age to 18. Most of these kids are in rural Kenya. And one of the challenge that we have is just access to internet. So we try to Look for tools, which do not necessarily have to rely on Internet's we are biased towards tools you can use offline. And to fit that bill crutch as been a useful resource. You can just download it in our machines, and then we can be able to roll it out. But it also is very child friendly in terms of, you can teach the basics of programming, from conditional statement from logical thinking to how to issue out commands using very child friendly graphics. So scratch is like our main tool, which we are using to teach this kids. But we've also been able to use Minecraft when we have access to connection. And again, we're just trying to create this sparkless interest and give them the basics of how to, to reason like a programmer, you know, typically out to our problem solving, how to look when they're they're going about introduction to software development, once they have the basics of that, and especially now that we have all the kids in the program right now, we're able to do a bit of HTML and CSS, and now they tend to build small websites. And they're
Barry Luijbregts 19:18
right, and then they can do it themselves. And then do you also give them a CI an example projects to make sure that they have something real world to work? Yes,
Caleb Ndaka 19:27
um, our approach of learning is, is what are called project based learning. And it's the way we do it. Just to mention is that a good comp comp is a not for profit, we have a very small core group, but then we work a lot with volunteers, and most of them are university students or the volunteers from the community and we do have a mobile lab, which we move around the villages with, and so the mobile lab as 21 workstations, and we will also request volunteers when they come to volunteer with that they come with their laptops. And the more than we use for teaching is we have one volunteer Trainer with between three to five kids around the table, and they have access to a device. So we change the training from being a classroom, whereby one person is talking and like 30 or 50 or 100 people are listening to him. So we change that to making learning to be in very small teams, between three to five kids with a trainer and we make learning to be very project based learning, they are walking through a very particular program project in which they will be able to demonstrate by the end of the day, or by the end of the cup,
Barry Luijbregts 20:50
then it will stick because of this. It is real world. Yes. That's a very good, good way of teaching. So you mentioned you work with volunteers. as well. So how largest is the organization? How many people work for it? So
Caleb Ndaka 21:05
we are not a very big organization. We have a core team of five guys.
But then we we are powered by volunteers every now and then we are We surely issue out a request for volunteers to come into work with us. So for the last five, six years, we've had over 1000 volunteers from all across the country, Kenner will be able to come in volunteers with us from a weekend to a holy day long depending on when they are available.
Barry Luijbregts 21:37
Well, is it difficult to find volunteers?
Caleb Ndaka 21:39
It is not. It is not because of two things. First and foremost. Most university students when it's during their long holiday, they are looking for things to keep them busy. And so right I've seen an opportunity First of all, we give them an opportunity to travel across the country, being places have never been. And we are giving them an opportunity for them to predict proactively and productively use their holiday time. So we've been able to have very good structure at comes to attracting volunteers in our program,
Barry Luijbregts 22:12
and you pay for the travel as well. That's very attractive. I imagine. And are you planning to increase your core team? So you have five core people right now? Are you planning to increase that?
Caleb Ndaka 22:27
Yes, definitely. For the last four, five years, we've been able to reach out to 10,000 kids. And our next milestone is trying to reach out 50,000 kids by 2030. In what we call the visual 50 k, r. And as we grow in numbers, we also want to grow the team. And so that's something that we are working towards that we can make the program more sustainable and more impactful,
Barry Luijbregts 22:57
quite some goals. What do you need for the goals to happen. Like, how do you fund your organization?
Caleb Ndaka 23:04
Great, great question there. We are a not for profit organization. And so before we are relied onasking for support from our friends and our family, we've also been writing grants. And we've also had different partnerships. We've been on Microsoft before, we have, but now we have General Electric's and a few organizations will be able to come to come on board. And so that is what we've relied on in the in the past, but also in the coming days, we are trying to make the program a little bit more sustainable by introducing what we're calling the income generating activity. Let me give you an example. Like we mentioned before, we only used to train kids, but then we realized this kids need that support system. And so we need to train the parents and their teachers. So one of the The income generating activities is actually by charging adults when they come to be trained, right? So we get, we get to two things that go when an adult comes to train their pain. And so we're able to make the program a little bit sustainable. But also, most of those adults, they end up becoming part of our community trainers. So that's something that we're trying to explore. We're trying to scale it up trying to see if we can make ourselves to be self sustaining in the coming days.
Barry Luijbregts 24:33
So we've talked about how kids come in with, with zero skills, and maybe a bit of experience with the internet and a mobile device. And then they learn to use the internet they you learn to use computers, and they learn how to code as well and adults as well. Do you also follow up on people that you taught as in maybe a year later to see where they are and Or do you also provide them with access to traineeships? And ultimately a job?
Caleb Ndaka 25:09
Yeah, that's an interesting question. It's something that I've been trying to address. So currently, this is the way we we've been doing it. We do not do what to call 181 that we don't do one comp and go away. We try to do every comp, we try to follow up and follow up and follow up. And, and part of that is because of something that we learned in our earlier years, community involvement and community ownership is very important. Right. And so we first avoid, we do not show up in communities. We wait to be invited. So we issue out a call for nomination people nominate, and then when you know minich we come and do a survey. And that's our base to establish if there's a need And what kind of supports the community is able to offer to us. In order for us to make our follow ups to be more seamless, and to be more effective. We are training more community based trainers, and most of this community based trainers, their local teachers, and that means that data will be not skewed for the next 510 or 20 years. And either most best placed person to do the follow up even after our initial phase of our training is, is done. And so by being intentional about training teachers in that community, that's the way we are trained to feel our follow up strategy, because the the locals in that communities, they are available in that communities. And if there's kills, and if they're motivated, then they become the best follow up methods to use.
Barry Luijbregts 26:55
That's a very powerful way to scale your Organization has it and to keep keep the kids engaged.
Caleb Ndaka 27:03
Yes. And also every after every program we do monitoring and evaluation, and one of the key areas would be trying to, to see is to ask ourselves, are we in talking to this kid when it comes to choosing careers and choosing, you know what to study and especially as you proceed to college, or as they proceed to, to high school, and so far 60% of the kids in our program, they are now more aligned to technology base, subjects and careers. And so we believe that's something that we are adding value to them, especially among gods who would just fear or our bad attitude towards, you know, Sciences and Technology.
Barry Luijbregts 27:49
So you said, you run a non for profit that is, and you get some help also from partners like Microsoft and other companies. Can our listeners maybe also help you out in some way? Because I see on your website, https://www.kidscompcamp.com/support/. People can also support you with money and other things.
Caleb Ndaka 28:16
Yeah, we believe that it it takes a village to raise a child. And so even in this digital driven society, it's good to take the digital village to ensure that every child is given equal fighting rights when it comes to tackling our today's digital driven society. And so if any listener feels they're there, they're able to come and help us to get more rural kids, that there are more than enough opportunities to do that and how to do that, like you just said, please visit our website https://www.kidscompcamp.com/support/. And there are a few ways you can you can be able to support us our mission, a few of them, you know, the first thing is that every year We run a campaign called donates lunchbox. So lunch box is food for one child for one camp at only $2. And the reason for that is sometimes we have kids who are walking up to 10 kilometers to be able to join our our camp. And so I keep cannot walk for all those kilometers and come and sit in a class with empty stomach, they will not concentrate, they will not enjoy. So wish I could say that kids comp come is about food, fun and computers. And so every year we are trying to raise food for this kid so that we can attract them to the camp. But also we can make them enjoy the training and through that they can be also to enjoy what technology can be able to offer for them. So if you can be able to donate one lunchbox, two lunchbox, 10 lunchbox, that's that would be great. A lot of boxes, only two to $2. And the challenge has always been if you can keep our lunch, maybe Be and donate that money to as a child in rural Kenya, that will be absolutely great. So how to do that? Visit www.kidscampcamp.com there are there ways you can you can be able to donate to us. The other way is if you have any unused or underused device, or even if you can consider donating devices to us, that will be great. First and foremost, it will help us to reduce the number of students to device ratio. Right now one device saves between three to five kids. If we can have one device, having two kids, that would be great. And that means we need to invest in more devices. So if you have a laptop, if you have a computer, if you have a smartphone, or a tablet, you feel it's going to be of benefit to our program would be most definitely happy to connect with you and try to see how we can. We can we can really connect. But most important if you can come volunteer with us. We believe that scene is better Leaving. And participating is only now one of the things that you've noticed is most of volunteers, they don't just come teach. After they teach, they go back and become our strongest support. So if we have time, a day, a weekend, a holy day, please come and volunteer with us. And like I mentioned, they can't come compounded calm is an email where you can reach out to us and we can be able to tell about the volunteer program that we have. So those are some of the ways in which we can, you know, work together and create a better world for this gift in rural Africa.
Barry Luijbregts 31:57
Well, that is amazing. I think your organization is amazing, and you are doing just incredible work. Thank you so much for that. And I would urge everybody that's listening to this to take a look at the website at https://www.kidscompcamp.com/support/, and I will also put that link in the show notes. Caleb, thank you so much for your time.
And see you all next time.
Caleb Ndaka 31:58
Thank you so much Barry. I was pleased to share about our small journey in rural Africa and how we can make this was a better place.