A school can be a dynamic place of learning where, in addition to learning a formal curriculum during set hours, students can build real world skills that can advance their potential for long term success.
With this vision in mind, Aga Khan Education Service in Central Asia launched a new after-school coding programme in October 2016. The MakeIt Computer Coding Club is currently running in two AKES schools: one in Osh, Kyrgyzstan and the other in Khorog, Tajikistan for students in grade 6 to 10. Prior to the start of the programme, AKES teachers were trained on the instruction of the curriculum, which uses the code.org platform and covers three themes: basic computer skills, basic mobile application development and some advanced concepts.
MakeIt is structured in order to challenge students to solve problems and present solutions individually and in teams; students have learned a variety of skills outside of coding such as problem-solving, teamwork and English language skills. As one student put it: "if I look back, I would never predict that I can solve so many difficult instructions" (Mamataliev Akjol). Boys and girls have shown equal participation in the coding programme at both Aga Khan School Osh and Aga Khan School Lycee. This is an effort to strengthen the two Central Asian school curriculums in the areas of STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. One student from Khorog, Tajikistan said: “when I joined the Coding Club, I thought that computers is not for me but mainly for boys. It was hard at first, but when I started thinking more deeply and looking carefully on rules, it became interesting and I realized that I’m able to cope with my tasks.” (Zuhro Azorabekova)
Teachers have also learned from the programme, benefitting from new computer skills and different perspectives on teaching and learning. Previously, if a students was struggling to understand a concept, teachers were compelled to show them the answer right away. However, coding is most effective if a student works out the solution to a problem on their own, even if it means failing on their first try. Teachers had to learn to ask students leading questions rather than showing them the answer. This change positively impacted their relationship with their students: “This programme makes us closer to our students; we understand them better and see them differently through the prism of coding" (Deryabkina N.A).
Being in a remote, mountainous area, power outages often caused delays within the school year. Early sunset times during the winter also pose a challenge because of reduced security on the commute home in the dark. However, even in these circumstances, students remained after school in their winter coats, writing code on paper and in candlelight. Little did students know, this practice is used in advanced computer science classes to challenge the learner to think more deeply about their work. Through the programme, students have shown incredible versatility: "This club gives me the possibility to learn more about myself, my abilities and what I can do" (Alieva Aitunuk)
From the outset, MakeIt was designed to challenge students - not just in the realm of coding, but to contribute to their community. In order to participate in the programme, students had to explain in the club application form how this experience could be used to better their communities. One student wrote about creating a website to teach people about their hometown of Khorog. Another proposed creating a mobile application to connect people struggling with diseases like cancer in a community of support. At the end of the programme, students were responsible for presenting a capstone project that applies the skills they have learned to solving challenges in their community. Some students have already given back by becoming teaching assistants in the programme itself.
After a successful first year, the programme is serving as a model for the creation of other after-school clubs that can help students develop relevant skills.