The Guardian has an uplifting story in its pages today – the story of how 67 girls in an Indian slum are taking coding lessons, and how this has already raised their aspirations and improved their future opportunities. Three apps have already been developed, directly tackling issues of women’s safety (by using a geolocated distress call), overflowing rubbish (by making it easy to upload and send pictures of accumulated rubbish to the local municipal authority) and time for study (with a app which sends an alert when the girl reaches her place in the queue at the communal water tap, meaning that she does not have to stand in line).
The project is the brainchild of a local non-profit organisation, the Slum Innovation Project, which runs a number of educational programmes for the children in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum, and – judging by the interviews with the girls concerned – it has been hugely successful in raising their levels of confidence and literacy, as well as opening up their minds to the possibilities that the digital world can bring them.
For there is little doubt – in a world that is digitally connected, personal digital literacy can open doors in a way that has not been available to previous generations. Moreover, the deeper the digital awareness – ie the greater ability to create and manipulate the code that underpins all digital activity – the wider the opportunities for young people to be able to operate in a global market. If ever there were one element that could make a difference to young people’s life chances by enhancing their freedom to choose what they do with their lives, it is the eminently learnable ability to code, and as technology becomes cheaper and cheaper, its power to transform opportunity grows in equal measure.
There are many reasons to learn to code, not least the rigour of thought and the logic it develops and strengthens in young (and old) minds; its capacity, however, to be a tool in the arsenal of social mobility, however, ranks pretty much at the top of the list. And at least 67 girls in India – the tip of the iceberg – can speak to that.