This week, we’ve had the honor of speaking to Ghana Code Club founder Ernestina Edem Appiah about her rise from IT secretary to coder, business owner, NGO founder, and spearhead of coding in Ghanaian schools!
Thanks for chatting with us Ernestina! Can you tell us what the Ghana Code Club is about?
Technology is reinventing the world. Kids need new skills to prepare them for a successful career in the future but the current ICT (Information Communications Technology) curriculum does not include them which is quite alarming. This is where Ghana Code Club comes in. It is a volunteer-led, after-school digital fun club that equips children between the ages of 8-17 years with coding skills. We have piloted with five schools and are ready to be launched into the majority of schools in Ghana during the first quarter of 2016.
What events in your life and career led you to create the Ghana Code Club?
I always dreamed of leading a team of IT professionals in creating cutting-edge solutions for Africa. This passion emerged when I worked for an IT firm in Accra back in 2000 as a secretary. I admired the IT consultants so much, especially the only lady among them. I remember I took home only about 10 percent of what the IT professionals earned at the time. I wanted to enroll on an HTML course (HTML is the standard coding language used to create webpages) but the little money I earned I used to take care of my siblings. Instead of waiting forever, I decided to teach myself any way I could. I got in touch with a web designer who for a small fee introduced me to the basics of HTML. I practiced anytime I got the chance and within weeks, I was designing my own websites.
Eventually, with more confidence in my skills, I took out a classified ad promoting myself as a virtual assistant and took on four clients, including one web-based telecom company in the USA. In 2004, I was able to resign as a secretary, rent an office, and eventually hire people to provide additional support.
A mere company’s secretary who was almost not noticed turned it around to become a business owner with international clients, paying employee salaries, mentoring people, assisting start-ups financially in my own small way, paying for college education fees for not less than five people – all because of that small change I made in my life and the new skills I learned!
I was so grateful and so happy with my progress that I wanted to do something to empower others with the kind of skill set that got me this far. I registered the NGO, Healthy Career Initiative in 2007 with the objective of empowering students with the skill set they will need to thrive in the 21st century—but unfortunately, it remained relatively inactive due to my heavy workload. Then I got married and had children and things slowed down even further as I realized I needed to work from home and be there for my kids when they needed me.
One day, when my boy was 5, I was searching the Internet for a simple programming platform to start teaching him and came across a blog about kids learning to code in the UK and the kind of things they were building that triggered my enthusiasm for my inactive NGO. All of a sudden, I wanted Ghanaian kids to create the same exciting digital stuff kids in the developed world were creating. Things like interactive stories, websites, games, and animation. Immediately, I put plans together and Ghana Code Club was born.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is being in the classroom with the kids feeling empowered that they have created things that can be used by another person from any part of the world. The smiles on their faces make me feel wonderful and hopeful that these kids will go on to develop the digital footprint of Ghana and Africa and impact the world as a whole.
Do you think Ghana needs to place more importance on technology and connectivity? How would this change the country?
Technology is the catalyst to development in every country, so Ghana also needs to emphasize its importance and steer resources towards technological advancement.
Every home should have access to a computer and the Internet. Then if kids can get trained in the right skills, the country will breed more entrepreneurs, innovators and problem solvers who are needed in every ministry to develop logical thinking, persist at tasks, and learn to collaborate to develop the nation and the world.
What are your aims for 2016?
We aim to launch into 20 or more schools within the first quarter of 2016, reaching no less than 20,000 children. We also hope to organize an inter-school competition to see the impact of creativity, problem-solving, and collaborative skills within our code club members. We then hope to establish a training center that will assist deprived children who, in one way or another, wish to participate in our code clubs but are unable to. We are always looking for support and donations to carry out our plans successfully!