Education must be about turning the intellectual spark into a red-hot fire that can fuel itself, and which serves to provide heat and light to society.
WeCode24 is an after school programme that is about having serious fun while learning things that have tremendous real-world value. It is centred around computer programming, which can open up many possibilities for learners. But more than simply teaching a skill, we are about creating a culture where passion, curiosity and wonder are the drivers of learning. By doing this we aim to empower underprivileged high school students in South Africa to make an impact on the world with the things they are passionate about.
Asking why we have to learn is like asking why we have to play — we play not because we have to, but because we can’t help ourselves, playing is fun. It is the same with learning, people are born with an intellectual spark that values knowledge, there is pleasure in finding things out. This can most easily be seen in children, who have an insatiable curiosity and desire to learn and make. And we all want to be able to do stuff, to be empowered (to become powerful!), to create.
Even though we all like playing, we don’t each like all games equally: some like playing chess, some soccer, some something else entirely. It is exactly the same with learning, and learning therefore often doesn’t feel like much fun anymore by the time one gets to high school. But learning itself isn’t the issue, we are all born curious and love to know and understand. Our aim with WeCode24 is therefore to give learners more control over their learning, and to put play and curiosity and adventure and excitement and intense fun and personality and attitude back into learning, for each and every person. We do not mean to accomplish that in an artificial way, like (supposing that the study of flight was our focus) making learners watch children’s cartoons about aeroplanes to teach them about flight. Instead we want to help them experience the joy of flight, for it to drive their learning, so that they, as clever and creative and empowered people, can design and build all the magical flying machines they can dream up — then go fly these on adventures!
Of course we each still need to function in society, to offer something of value to others. Through the educational system, society strives to impart knowledge that is hard or impossible to discover or learn on one’s own, and which empowers most, such as literacy, numeracy and even musicality. The most empowering skill to learn, however, is the ability to acquire and construct knowledge by yourself — learning how to learn, and learning how to create. We want to empower learners with that skill, and in doing so, we want to give learners the power to choose what that ‘something of value’ is that they offer to society, whether art or engineering or accounting or whatever else. WeCode24 is therefore specifically about programming because it is extremely diverse and powerful: it lets you add value to almost any area of life. With it you can make art or games, or send real spaceships to explore galaxies, or build clever houses that look after their inhabitants, or design robots that you can control with your mind, or create new kinds of money, or make virtual worlds to explore, or anything else you can dream up, things nobody has even begun to imagine! Programming is the most generally-powerful and empowering trade.
The important thing here is that the music is not in the piano. And knowledge and edification is not in the computer. The computer is simply an instrument whose music is ideas.
WeCode24 is firstly about learning to love learning again. We want for each person to go through life with the tremendous joy of constant learning centered around their interests.
Secondly, WeCode24 is about learning to think in a different way:
- To learn to think at a higher level. Learning to program develops your mind to work with patterns and systems, as most of what you program is not only things, but types of things, concepts. You therefore learn to generalise: to move from the specific and concrete, to the more general and abstract.
- To understand how computers think. Why? So that you can tell them what to do! The reason for our passion about programming specifically is because it’s very much like art, like painting on a blank canvas: you can create whatever you can imagine! The difference is that it’s not primarily visual, but mental. So we want people to learn how to ‘paint with their mind’, to think big and beautiful and wonderful thoughts, and then to make those real.
The most effective learning requires a creative and interactive environment for guided exploration, with the knowledge situated in empowering contexts:
Acquiring knowledge for use, like learning a language by growing up in its country, is an experience quite unlike learning a language in order to pass a test. Just as all children — and not only those who ‘have a head for French’ — learn French if they live in France, so, too, all children learn mathematics if they meet it in a context that is more alive
The educator’s role in that environment is perceptive and thoughtful scaffolding, that guides learners towards discovery. Consequently, instead of only teaching in the traditional lecture format, we make use of guided inquiry through creative projects, in playful, social environments.
We are very excited! If you are too, and would like to get involved, we’d love to hear from you.