Coding kids share their digital skills with MEPs

Irish MEP Sean Kelly (EPP) with children at the Coder Dojo in European Parliament

Irish MEP Sean Kelly (EPP) with children at the Coder Dojo in European Parliament [Courtesy of Sean Kelly]

This article is part of our special report EU Code Week 2015.

SPECIAL REPORT / Dozens of children from around the continent came to the European Parliament on 30 September to help MEPs brush up their digital skills.

For the third time, Irish MEP Sean Kelly (European People’s Party) invited the young coders to the annual event in Parliament.

Rallied together by the organisation Coder Dojo, the children taught MEPs how to code, build a basic website and use other digital programmes. More than 40 children between the ages of 7 and 17 traveled to Brussels from Ireland, Northern Ireland, Italy, Belgium, Romania, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK for the coding session.

Thirteen MEPs stopped by to learn from the visitors, some of whom have already been coding for several years.

Sam, age 14 from Northern Ireland, said he started coding when he was nine.

“Coding is fun because you can make anything. If you can think of it you can make it. Even an actual physical device like a little car or a little robot,” he said.

The children who came to Brussels normally attend meetings at local Coder Dojo chapters.

Benedetta, from the chapter in Allumiere, Italy, opened the session in Parliament by playing ‘Ode to Joy’ on a musical instrument she made using MakeyMakey, a device that uses sensors to turn objects into keys or a control pad.

Coding clubs and extracurricular meetup groups like Coder Dojo can fill a gap left in school systems that don’t mandate teaching digital skills at all.

A European Schoolnet report published this week pointed out that 15 EU member states include coding in school curricula at some level, marking an uptick in recent years.

Coder Dojo was founded and is headquartered in Ireland, and now has chapters set up in 60 countries.

European Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip, who is responsible for the digital single market, told EURACTIV yesterday (13 October), “Technology-based education and digital skills pedagogies should be a ‘must have’, not just a ‘good-to-have’, for all ages.”

>>Read: Ansip: Europe ‘still has some way to go’ on digital skills

Sean Kelly said the training sessions would equip children with valuable knowledge, since digital skills “are in huge demand in the labour market.”

“The young people attending these clubs on a weekly basis have the chance to learn how to develop computer code, websites, apps, programs, games, digital media and to explore technology,” Kelly said.

Scottish MEP Catherine Stihler (Socialists & Democrats) went to the Coder Dojo session in Parliament for the second time.

“During my Coder Dojo session, I was sitting next to two Belgian brothers, aged 14 and 12. We made a website together and then made a game using Scratch. We also learned how to make games using Keno programming,” Stihler said.

Stihler told EURACTIV she thinks lessons teaching coding and other digital skills should be a mandatory part of school curricula for young students and is considering starting coding classes for children in Scotland.

Mary Moloney, CEO of Coder Dojo, said the regular coding sessions give children confidence in their skills. In Parliament, Moloney said, they had “no problem showing adults how it’s done and astounded the MEPs in attendance.”

Bulgarian MEP Eva Paunova (EPP) told EURACTIV she was taught coding by someone half her age at the Coder Dojo session.

“In today’s fast-moving environment, it is not unusual to learn and get coding explained by children. The new generations growing in this new era contain natural digital skills and this is what defines them – generation D,” Paunova said.

German MEP Julia Reda (Pirate Party) was paired up with a boy from Ireland who was building a website on the right to internet access.

“In our technology-driven age, it’s crucial that everyone has the opportunity to actively shape technology, rather than just being a passive consumer or user of it,” Reda said.

>>Read: Coding classes trending across EU schools

EU Code Week raises awareness about a skill that will only become more influential as time passes. 

Coding is the language of computers – when you learn it, you will be able to create software, websites, and apps.

The European Commission believes teaching coding can help to reduce the EU’s stubbornly high unemployment figures, not least the youth unemployment rates, and get it back on the growth track.

  • 10-18 October: EU Code Week.

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