A Code Boot Camp for Underprivileged Kids

A science center in Johannesburg, South Africa, has opened the doors to a five-month course in Linux-based Web apps and entrepreneurial skills. The training is available free of charge to underprivileged students from nearby townships; if it's successful, it will be rolled out nationwide.

The Sci-Bono Discovery Center, based in Newtown, has been a strong supporter of education for school children and youth of the townships since it opened in 2006. At first the curriculum focused on educational support in the traditional subjects of science and mathematics. As time passed, the Center began to teach IT skills to high school graduates who were applying to university. This week, it has taken a giant leap into the realm of Web development with a world-class training line-up.

It's an opportunity that many of the Center's students otherwise never would see, with poverty levels in the townships making it impossible to attend courses run by commercial training providers.

The intensive five-month course was developed by French skills development firm Simplon, which recently was involved in the highly successful Africa Code Week. The course focuses on Linux-based Web app stacks. The training starts with Linux administration, and then students learn to produce working Ruby on Rails apps. They will learn to develop with Node.js and Meteor.js as well. Along the way, they also will be learning front-end skills such as HTML, JavaScript and CSS. By the end, they will have a well-rounded foundation in full stack development and completed projects to show off in their portfolios.

The project is based on the topics that Simplon uses in its French coding boot camps, which have been very successful in France. One third of Simplon's graduates are employed, and another third are involved in startups of their own (which explains Simplon's nickname: "The Startup Factory").

The choice of Linux, Ruby, Rails and Node.js means that these students will be learning to use technology that is cutting-edge and completely open source. That's not just a happy coincidence. On a continent with many developing economies, FOSS is not just a moral choice. For many startups, restrictive and expensive software licenses would make it impossible to operate at all.

The project leaders are excited about the changes that will be stimulated by this project, especially if it is adopted in other science centers throughout the country. With computer hardware availability and Internet access improving across the continent, Africa already is the fastest growing ICT region on Earth. With a horde of newly trained developers, ready to work with a cutting-edge open-source software stack, this will be one big step to close the technology gap with the West. And, with so many new developers able to contribute to open-source projects, it's a move that will benefit all of us.
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