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mobile applications

Dharavi is Asia’s largest slum and is located in the middle of Mumbai, India’s financial capital. The slum is home to nearly a million people. Within that population, teenage girls have been learning how to code in order to develop mobile applications that can help tackle different problems within their community.

Filmmaker Nawneet Ranjan founded the Dharavi Diary project, which teaches young girls in the slum to code. With this skill, the girls can then develop mobile applications that aim to combat everyday issues  including “sexual harassment, access to water and education.”

Using the MIT App Inventor, online video instruction, documentary films and Powerpoint presentations, Ranjan and the Dharavi Diary project team teaches girls between the ages eight and 16, the basics of coding.

Ranjan first became involved in working with the Dharavi community after he made a film titled Dharavi Diary in 2012. The film documented issues faced by the slum’s residents.

He then set up a small computer lab in 2014, with the goal of encouraging young girls to become changemakers. The result of their involvement in the program can ultimately lead them to better education and more employment opportunities.

“A lot of girls in the neighbourhood don’t get the chance to use computers and laptops,” Ranjan told Mashable. “I showed them how technology can be used to solve problems and improve their job opportunities. I told them that these were things that they could learn on their own.”

The project experienced a setback when the slum was destroyed by a fire on Jan. 4, 2016, destroying tablets and computers as well as the homes of over 50 families in the neighborhood.

However, through a new crowd-funding campaign, Ranjan hopes to raise more resources to buy more computers, laptops, and food and clothing for the children.

One app that a group of girls developed, for example, is called Paani, which alerts residents of the slum when they collect water from the community tap. This allows members of the community to avoid waiting in long lines for the water every day.

In a country where access to clean water is a luxury, the responsibility of collecting water often falls on girls, who consequently must miss school as a result of waiting hours for the essential resource.

Another Android App, Women Fight Back, focuses on women’s safety. Its features include SMS alerts, a distress alarm and emergency calls to contacts on their phones, according to Business Insider.

“When we joined the program we decided first to look at the problems that our neighborhood and community faced, and then build apps to address them,” said Ansuja Madiwal, a 15-year-old girl, in an interview with The Hindu.

“In a small way, initiatives like this help in giving people a greater sense of participation and an awareness of the problems that they face and how they can devote resources to solving them,” said Ranjan.

Michelle Simon

Africa_computer Africa Code Week

In October 2015 nearly 89,000 African youth in 17 countries took part in “Africa Code Week” where they had the opportunity to attend free online sessions and coding workshops. The event was created to empower African youth to become fluent in the language of the digital age and stimulate the continent’s economic development.

For some of the youth who took part in the week-long celebration of digital literacy, Africa Code Week marked the first time they had ever written a single line of code. For others, it was their first time using a computer.

“Africa Code Week gives us an opportunity to marvel at what the future holds,” said Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP, in an article for Forbes. “It’s true that today less than one percent of African children leave school with basic coding skills. I’m confident that figure is about to rise dramatically, just as Africa prepares to claim its rightful place as a soaring economic power in this new digital economy.”

Throughout the world, coding is becoming an increasingly critical skill for those entering the workforce. Over the next 10 years, it is estimated that there will be 1.4 million jobs in computer sciences but only around 400,000 graduates qualified to do them, according to International Business Times.

As we wind our way deeper into the 21st century, individuals with coding skills will become more and more valuable in the workplace. Digital literacy could become a key strategy for strengthening economic infrastructure in developing countries.

“Digital literacy has the power to put millions of young Africans on the path to successful careers,” Moroccan Minister of Education and Vocational Training, Rachid Belmokhtar, said to IT News Africa. “Trained, tech savvy graduates are needed to improve Africa’s position in the globally competitive knowledge economy. Everyone from governments and educational institutions all the way to NGOs and corporations has a role to play to spread digital literacy across Africa.”

It was foundations like Ampion, SAP, Simplon.co and more that saw the need and came to help. They founded Africa Code Week to bestow young Africans with a set of useful skills through hands-on teaching.

Despite the fact that the event is the largest digital literacy initiative ever held on the African continent, SAP and its partners are not satisfied. Next year, the Africa Code Week team hopes to reach 150,000 youth in at least 30 countries.

“The digital economy is here and the opportunities it presents are manifold,” said Pfungwa Serima, Executive Chairman, SAP Africa. “If we equip young Africans with the best technology, give them skills that make them relevant to the job market and empower them to be bold and innovative, we’ll see them do amazing things.”

Jen Diamond

Photo: Flickr