Iqaluit kids go home with free laptops after coding workshop

Kids in Iqaluit, who participated in a week-long coding workshop that ended Friday, got to keep the laptops they learned on.

Arctic Inspiration prize-winner designs coding curriculum for Nunavut youth

A child soaks up the learning at the Pinnguaq coding workshop in Iqaluit this week. (Vince Robinet/CBC)

Kids in Iqaluit, who participated in a week-long coding workshop that ended Friday, got to keep the laptops they learned on. 

Run by the Pinnguaq Association, the course is part of a ramp-up to a full-year curriculum designed to build computer science skills across the territory.

The tech startup received $400,000 from the Arctic Inspiration prize to expand it's "te(a)ch" program in 2016.

Previously called Code Club, Pinnguaq began experimenting with teaching coding workshops in Pangnirtung in 2013.

"One of things we found with Code Club was it was not very sustainable," said Pinnguaq's director, Ryan Oliver. "We could go into a community for five days, but then when we're done, we were taking all the knowledge with us." 

Now, the company has a partnership with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, which gives them access to refurbished laptops from all levels of government.

The laptops they hand out at the end of a course will come preloaded with a Windows 10 operating system, the programming languages used in the course, and the curriculum once it is developed.

This helps avoid hold-ups caused by slow or intermittent Internet in Nunavut, but the biggest barrier for the program remains the cost of flights.

Ryan Oliver coaches a pupil. (Vince Robinet/CBC)

Breaching barriers of distance

Over 50 per cent of the total budget goes towards getting program instructors in and out of communities, which is why this rebranded program has a longer timeline.

"We're going to go into communities not so much to teach a five-day coding camp, but to train local champions that can then take that 52 weeks of curriculum and bring coding into their communities."

The company is hoping their program will help connect remote communities to the conversation that's happening in a world increasingly run by computers.

Using computers to create not consume

The group focuses on teaching kids how to work with editable, open-source software available for free online, as a way of promoting the idea that computers are for more than passive consumption.

"We have this option right now learn how to use computers and use them as tools of expression, to participate in that conversation," Oliver said

In the Iqaluit workshop, the group of 18 students recorded traditional throat singing and used their new coding skills to create remixes of the samples. They also created an original game, which they named K9 Cannibals.

Calling it a beta session, Oliver asked the kids in the workshop to contribute to the curriculum development. 

In 2017 he hopes to gather feedback from Pinnguaq's programs planned in Chesterfield Inlet and Baker Lake —and have a fully polished curriculum ready for 2018.