Seda Papoyan

Cracking the Code for Armenia’s Future

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YEREVAN — Armenia has precious few natural resources to secure its future; it has no oil, gold or diamonds. Instead, it does have a young, educated population and that just might be enough to promise it a golden future.

Seda Papoyan is one of the people who would like to harvest that natural intelligence for the future of the country, by getting more and more young people in high-tech. And for Papoyan, it is important that young girls get into coding, the language of high tech, from the start.

To meet that goal, she and a group of supporters are trying to crowdfund a new chapter of CoderDojo so that children, and girls especially, will learn coding.

Papoyan is the managing director of the Armenia chapter of Girls in Tech, which was founded in 2016.

Girls in Tech is another global organization that was founded 11 years ago in San Francisco, to “engage, empower and educate” women in tech, a field where women are in a distinct minority around the world.

The Armenia chapter was founded two years ago with the aim of teaching coding to young girls, who in turn can become women in tech. It has about 100 members, with a staff of seven.

Youngsters learning code

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“We found CoderDojo through our network. We allow this is something as a curriculum, philosophy for our education path we need here,” Papoyan said.

According to the CoderDojo website (https://coderdojo.com/), the seeds for the organization were planted when a young hacker, James Whelton, in Cork, Ireland, hacked the iPod Nano. As a result, some of the students at his school expressed an interest in learning how to code. He set up a computer club in his school. Later he met with Bill Liao, an entrepreneur and philanthropist and together the pair founded CoderDojo in 2011. There are now more than 1,600 verified Dojos in 75 countries.

Another advantage, she explained, that like Girls in Code, the organization is part of a global family, which will help expose Armenian youth to foreign experts and in turn allow those experts to help Armenia and offer a well-tried path.

“We can be engaged in a global community of supporters,” Papoyan said. “We want to empower more girls to do coding.”

As such, she said that the organization will try to make sure that at least 50 percent of the CoderDojo members are girls.

“If children get in at an early stage, they will see no difference in gender” roles, Papoyan said. “It will help to make sure that there will be no discrimination in any field.”

Armenia is working with the Swedish chapter of CoderDojo, thus it is able to take advantage of the experiences of another country where it has been successfully adopted.

There are several chapters in Sweden, Papoyan said.

In August, she and a group of future CoderDojo mentors will travel to Sweden to study their experiences and to be trained as trainers so that they can return and in turn train more instructors.

The first locale for CoderDojo will be in Yerevan and later expand to the rural regions, as the capital is the easiest place in the country to set up.

If CoderDojo manages to raise all the funds they need, they plan to open centers in rural regions, including Artik, Charentsavan, Masis, Martuni and Vayk, in addition to Yerevan.

The money raised will help the organization set up clubs with equipment, and whatever is needed to be able to run it for at least six months, Papoyan explained. The clubs are going to be free for all.

“I am more interested in getting the regions to start,” Papoyan noted, while she added that the cost for the rural regions is going to be far higher initially, as they would have to start from scratch.

The deadline for the crowdfunding campaign is July 22.

“We are planning and our activities have already started,” she stated. The first CoderDojo chapter, she said, will open in Yerevan at the end of September in conjunction with the beginning of the school year.

The program will be an afterschool activity, “but so much more flexible. There will be an online curriculum that will be open for anyone to participate in. It is a whole curriculum based on mentorship.”

“We are going to actively work with schools to engage more kids,” she said. She noted that the program offered is different from the more established TUMO Center, which offers a broader range of computer education as well as a different age group. Papoyan, who used to work at TUMO, said that unlike TUMO, which is for children 12-17, CoderDojo is for children ages 7-14. She noted as well that TUMO is going to be a partner in the effort.

Papoyan said that in many towns and villages, there is no such program and thus they will be able to make the most difference. Other plans floating include creating a mobile CoderDojo club for the rural regions.

She explained that all of the country now has internet connection and thus connectivity should not pose an issue.

Papoyan, while a proponent of technology at work, is not a tech person by training; she received her degree in art history and alter worked in journalism, communication and public relations.

Being a working woman, however, fostered her interest in gender equality and thus she founded Girls in Tech.

“I have three children and every day I see all the challenges of kids,” she said.

Thus, she also started TaTa, a support group for working mothers who need alternate childcare solutions.

“I am not doing this just as a job; it is something from my personal experience to do it,” she noted.

Incidentally, she said, the group is testing out CoderDojo’s curriculum on the TaTa group.

She was also a project coordinator for European Friends of America and worked as a press and PR coordinator for the Tumo Center for Creative Technologist.

To donate, visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/coderdojo-access-to-coding-for-kids-of-armenia-computers#/ . TO learn more about Girls in Tech, visit https://www.facebook.com/GITArmenia/

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