Girls tackle languages of change

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Copy of ca p11 coding done Independent Newspapers Zikhona Mahonono learning HTML language along with other Grade 10 and 11 girls. Picture: Willem Law

Cape Town -

COSAT girls are coding it for themselves.

At the Centre of Science and Technology (Cosat) school in Khayelitsha, 24 Grade 10 and 11 girls are spending their school holidays learning HTML and CSS – the languages of the internet.

In three weeks’ time they will have built mobi-sites for community-based organisations in need of website makeovers.

Code for Cape Town is funded by WeTech and aims to inspire girls to follow a career in technology – a field still dominated by men.

“It’s targeted at girls in order to equalise the gender difference in IT,” said programme director Emma Dicks from InnovateSA.

Thembeka George, 17, was building her own social media profile page as a practice site.

Underneath her profile picture, she coded in a list of her interests: fast food, pop and hip hop music, poems – “definitely not love poems… yuck”.

Under novels, she writes: “Any novel with vampires” – but quickly qualifies that this does not include Twilight.

Thembeka is in Grade 11 and takes information technology as a subject, so she’s an old hand at programming languages, but HTML is a new challenge. “I usually do Java at school so learning something new is exciting. Yesterday I didn’t find it easy but now I’ve got the hang of it.”

Volunteer tutor Dane Rossenrode said the girls were taking to coding fast. “They’ve been surprisingly quick to pick it up. They even remembered all the tags we did yesterday.”

HTML works on a system of “tags”, which act like instructions to a web browser such as Google Chrome or Internet Explorer.

So far, the girls have learnt the basic tags that allow them to create paragraphs, headings, and some appearance aspects such as the colour and size of font on a website.

Thembeka took to it so easily that her classmates were already asking her for help.

“After school I want to do computer science but also astronomy,” she said. “I love stars and planets. I want to discover my own planet.”

As for the tech world being dominated by men, Thembeka said: “That’s disgusting. I think it comes from a cultural heritage where men are the heads. Girls can do it just as well, and even better than them.”

Her coding group is assigned to create a mobi-site for InnovateSA.

“We’ve got such amazing plans for them. We want to make the website more funky, and make it available on normal phones, not just smartphones.”

And within three weeks, under the guidance of their tutors, the Cosat girls will have done just that – created functional mobi-sites while learning skills that make them immediately employable and ready to thrive in an industry of men.

Cape Argus

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