Galway is ‘Youth Coding Capital’ of Europe

Coderdojo session, NUI Galway

An information and registration event for both young people and parents interested in having their children learn computer coding will take place from 2pm-3pm in the Insight Centre for Data Analytics in the Dangan Business Park, NUI Galway.

Coderdojo session, NUI Galway
The event will introduce attendees to the programming and electronics courses being provided in a relaxed social environment from mid October by Coderdojo, Ireland’s fastest growing youth movement. Sessions will be held in the IT Building and at Insight in the university. At a dojo (Japanese term for training centre), young people between the ages of five and seventeen learn how to code, develop websites, apps, programs and games. Dojos are set up, managed and taught by volunteers. The first Coderdojo was established in Cork in June 2011 by James Whelton and Bill Liao. Since then it has become an Irish technology export success story active in forty-three countries.

Coderdojo session, NUI Galway
According to Brendan Smith, one of Coderdojo Galway’s co-founders, “There is a real appetite amongst our young people to learn how to code. They want to move on from playing computer games to making their own versions. This is shown by the fact that every Saturday, in towns across Galway including Athenry, Clifden, Eyrecourt, Kinvara, Loughrea, Mountbellew and Tuam as well as in NUI Galway, hundreds of enthusiastic children and teenagers create their very own games, digital stories and web applications facilitated by volunteer Coderdojo mentors. 
Coderdojo session, NUI Galway
The language used for beginners to coding is Scratch. Developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Scratch is the most popular computer language for young people worldwide, being a significant catalyst in the huge uptake in coding across the world over the last few years. It has a cross-disciplinary ethos and structure that combines mathematics with elements of arts, engineering and personal development. So we are using this opportunity to encourage our young coders or ‘ninjas’ to showcase their projects to the general public.” 
Computer Coding class in Galway Primary School, mentored by Insight volunteer
Brendan goes on to say that “Coding is the new literacy of the 21st century. It will be as important for our children to learn how to programme as it is how to read and to write. It is the foundation stone on which the modern technology age is being built. Hence for Ireland to develop a sustainable knowledge economy and society, it is vital that we harness the creativity of our youth to innovate the beneficial products and processes that the world needs. Thankfully there is at present a convergence of a diverse range of digital initiatives happening in this region that could transform Galway into becoming the Youth Coding Capital of Ireland and indeed of Europe.  The success can be demonstrated by the fact that during the inaugural Europe Coding Week held last November, not only was Ireland the most active country but Galway city and county hosted the highest concentration of events of any location in Europe.
The region has elements that could allow it to become known as the ‘Silicon Galway Bay’, a European version of California’s Silicon Valley. Many of the world’s leading corporations in the biomedical and information technology sectors such as Avaya, Boston Scientific, Cisco, Electronic Arts, Hewlett-Packard, Medtronic and SAP, are already based here. These industries have developed links to research centres located in GMIT and NUIG such as Insight, Ryan and REMEDI which are providing the scientific expertise to sustain their presence in Galway and underpin their status as leaders in cutting edge product development. Insight at NUI Galway for instance is part of a cross Ireland university research centre designed to provide a national ICT research platform based on world-class research programmes that will serve as a global beacon for the science and application of Big Data Analytics. 
Digital Female Solidarity: 'Rail Girls' workshop Insight NUI Galway June 2014
There is also the presence locally of Irish-owned high tech manufacturing and services industries such as Creganna and Storm Technologies. But we can be even better than Silicon Valley in many respects. For whilst the San Francisco Bay area is the world’s premier powerhouse of leading edge industries, technological innovation and research, nevertheless there are serious social and economic problems that  manifests itself in a high income disparity, a disconnect between businesses and local communities as well a low percentage of quality opportunities available for the indigenous population with approximately 50% of the jobs in the high tech sector being taken by people from outside the United States. Yet Galway has traditions and characteristics that, supported by new government education policies, should ensure that our local school-going populations and communities secure the maximum benefit vis-à-vis employment and services. 
091 Labs stand at the Galway Science & Technology Festival, NUI Galway
Key to this development is the teaching of coding to our young people in schools and clubs, which is happening at a higher level here than anywhere else in Ireland thanks to the volunteerism and deep sense of ‘community solidarity’ that is such a strong feature of Galway society. 
This is epitomized by the actions of the prime ‘movers and shakers’ in the industrial, political, educational and local government sectors who have over the years collaborated under the auspices of the Galway Education Centre, Junior Achievement and the Galway Science and Technology Festival, to deliver important learning initiatives in schools and colleges across the Western region. 
Computer Coding class in Mayo Post-Primary School, mentored by Insight volunteer
Modern version of Meitheal reaching into schools
 In a modern industrial urban version of ‘Meitheal’ that was once the hallmark of traditional Irish rural community support, these visionaries have promoted and harnessed an army of young professional mentors from industry and third level colleges who give their time and energies to teach in primary and post-primary classrooms delivering science courses whilst acting as positive ‘role models’ for our young generation.  
School Mentors, Hewlett Packard
Over the last year, volunteer tutors from Hewlett Packard, GMIT and NUI Galway have worked together to coordinate the delivery of computer programming courses to thousands of pupils and students in over sixty primary and post-primary schools across counties Mayo, Westmeath and Galway.
Local young people’s clubs such as ‘091 Labs’ and the Coderdojos are providing informal after-school digital makers’ environments. 

Ciaran Cannon TD for east Galway and former Minister of State at the Dept of Education has taken a very pro-active ‘hand-ons’ approach in promoting digital creativity in schools and amongst communities. Government educational reform has ensured that five decades after the tentative introduction of computing into Irish schools, coding will soon become part of the national post-primary curriculum at junior cycle level.  We are therefore witnessing the birth of the first generation of Irish children that can code, people who are truly ‘digital creators’ rather than just passive ‘digital users’.
Bernard Kirk(director of Galway Education Centre; Dáire Smith (Coláiste Iognáid); Brendan Smith (Insight & Coderdojo) & Ciaran Cannon TD)
There is a vibrant digital buzz about Galway that is found no where else in Ireland which also finds expression not just through youth-based coding clubs, high tech manufacturing sector; business associations such as ITAG; presence of world renowned IT research third level institutes but also through perpetual trophies such as ‘John Cunningham Memorial Coderdojo Awards’; the annual ‘Rails Girls’ conference which highlights the role of women in technology; and the popularity of the NUIG-based ‘Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland which give due recognition to the strong historical connections of Galway with the origins of the global village and its five decades long associations with leading edge computing.”
Computer & Communications Museum of Ireland, Insight NUI Galway

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