Let’s Have Fun Programming

Donna Roper
Published 03/18/2024
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Lets Learn Programming Panama SectionLet’s have fun programming, creating competencies in children in an early stage.

With the current need for thousands of professionals in the engineering field in Latam, universities have not been able to meet the prevailing necessity. As evidence, many organizations and universities have conducted several studies on the needs, such as the OIT, BBC, and ISEP, which have the same results, revealing that the most sought-after profile is the ICT professionals.

However, on the other side of the coin, there is a gap between the preferences of young people on the types of careers most pursued and the professionals demanded by the labor market. According to the 2018 PISA (Program of International Student Assessment) report from an average among OECD countries, less than 5% of girls and 18% of boys aspired to work in engineering and computer science. Concluding that despite technological advances, the careers most sought after remain the same as in the last century.

The results obtained by the 15-year-old students who participated in the PISA test showed diverse results. The average young people preferred careers in education, administration, medicine, and engineering, and fewer of them as ICT professionals. If these young people had been asked at a younger age and with their current exposure to technologies, maybe the answers would have been different.

Based on the PISA report, there are many elements involved in young people’s professional expectations, often as a product of self-perceptions and academic performance (AP); depending on gender and the AP, they choose more technical careers or medicine in case of high AP, and less technical careers, such as administration, law, and design, among others.

These analyses could help explain why the gap between the professionals required for economic development and the careers desired by young people appears to be due to the skills and attitudes requested by organizations. Forbes indicates that the skills required are Emotional Intelligence (66.7%), Assertive Communication (46%), Leadership (40%), Decision-Making (32%), and Conflict Resolution (30%).

That is why Let’s Have Fun Programming Project is a challenge, thus developing from early stages the knowledge of what can be done with technology, satisfying experiences with problem solving, the creation of required skills within the mental structure of children, stimulating the development of socio- affective skills, creative thinking, systematic reasoning, analysis and problem solving, collaborative work, leadership, cybersecurity awareness, as well as project management and programming skills, key objectives of the project.

The Let’s Have Fun Programming Project proposed by the Computer Society of IEEE Panama Section and the University of Panama, is structured in three levels of complexity, aimed at children of 8 to 12 years old, totally virtual and free of charge; where undergraduates teach children about technological literacy, block programming using Scratch, Tinkercad, and Python to create games, projects and stories, with a playful approach, and mentored them for three weeks.

After three years of success, the result of this 2024 version was 150 children registered, 41% girls, 19 groups of up to 9 children, 38 university students, 52% women, 24 hours of training, and more than 200 hours of preparation of materials, more than 100 children’s projects, 15 professional observers validated the sessions, with more than 100 registered comments and a face to face closing ceremony where over 200 people attended to see the children’s projects.

As future improvements we consider increasing the number of young people, finding the means to provide internet for both children and undergraduates, producing a workbook for the children to access and follow up their progress, consequently reducing the limitations faced and that often affected the children’s development, and projecting this project to a Latam level to share experiences.

This is only a contribution to fostering in children the effective and responsible use of technologies for the benefit of humanity and, in the process, developing the required abilities for the millennium.