Camp challenges children to use tech to tackle pressing

Although she has not settled on a career path just yet, 16-year-old Joanna White* is using the IGT Coding and Robotics Rock! Camp to immerse herself deeper in the wide-ranging field of technology.

“It has taught me a lot so far, and I now know that robots can do advanced things,” she told The Gleaner shortly after the camp’s opening ceremony on Wednesday.

Joanna is one of the Jamaicans among 36 participants from seven Caribbean countries participating in the summer programme, which will focus on technological innovations capable of addressing social and environmental issues and fuelling sustainable growth within the region.

The camp is funded by International Game Technology (IGT), in collaboration with Mona GeoInformatics Institute (MGI), and will be held over two weeks from July 20 to 29 and from August 15 to 26 under the theme ‘Youth Coding for a Sustainable Caribbean’.

The Jamaican participants were selected from the SOS Children’s Village in Stony Hill, St Andrew; Sunbeam Children’s Home in Old Harbour, St Catherine; the Spring Village Development Foundation; the Mustard Seed Communities; and the Women’s Centre of Jamaica.

IGT Caribbean Regional Director Brendan Hames said the camp aims to equip youth with marketable programming skills.

“There is a growing realisation among educators that teaching coding and robotics to children and youth will give them valuable skills for life and expose them to innovative uses of technology,” said Hames.

He explained that given the success of the 2021 camp, and to better achieve the objectives of this year’s programme, IGT and MGI have decided to deliver the training at two levels – the cohort from last year’s camp, along with newcomers who already have introductory knowledge in coding.

The will help the returnees to build on the fundamentals learnt last year, while the new cohort will be introduced to the basics of coding and robotics.

Lead tutor Kevin Johnson told The Gleaner that the participants will delve into artificial intelligence and web development, before moving on to practical assessments.

“They will be going through something called Google Teachable Machine. That is an artificial intelligence programme that will allow them to teach Google how to classify objects. For example, they will take pictures of trees, shrubs or flowers and show it to Google, and Google will learn from those images; and they can even use a webcam to scan the images in real time,” Johnson said.

Participants will also bolster their skills through the use of JavaScript, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and HTML.

Johnson said that a refresher course was held with some students last week and they are now on par with the other participants.

“They have been grasping the information quickly. They have been interactive, and they have been asking questions,” the lead tutor said, adding that at the end of the summer camp, participants will sit theory and practical examinations.

Romaro Cross, a social worker at Sunbeam Children’s Home, said that six wards from the institution were chosen for the camp based on their interest in technology.

“They have been enthused by the sessions and they have been attentive,” he said, adding that they will access the remainder of the programme virtually.

Cross explained that their participation is likely to have a ripple effect by sparking interest in technology among the other wards, and possibly influencing them to want to join the programme.

“If they see one of these students create a web page or even a game, they are all going to want to join this. Boys, as we know, are game lovers, so if they at any point learn how to design their own game, I assure you that it will be something that they all look forward to,” Cross said.

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