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Hour of power

Hour of power 

Coding, like any foreign language, can often be difficult to learn and understand; so much so that some people just can’t be bothered to do it.

Despite that, coding is viewed as important backbone of the IT industry, as it is in the framework of many applications and websites that we visit or use regularly. Without code, the world of computer science would be a vastly different place, and things would not run as smoothly.

But coding doesn’t have to be a daunting task, and a recently-held global event sought to resolve this issue. Known as the Hour of Code, the event was designed to prove that people of all ages could learn the basics of coding in only an hour.

Presented by Microsoft, in conjunction with and Microsoft YouthSpark, the event targeted school-aged children in major cities around the world. A recent study showed that students were often lacking in computer science knowledge, as fewer schools are teaching these kinds of courses. In fact, only 2.4 per cent of college students are graduating with computer science degrees these days.

“Microsoft is committed to empowering people to do more and achieve more,” said Dennis Lopes, director of legal and corporate affairs for Microsoft Canada. “This mission is especially important when we’re talking about young people, in particular, those who lack access to skills training.”

Young people often face an uphill battle once they are ready to enter the work force. Lopes chalks this up to the fact that they often have difficulty accessing the training and education that is necessary for certain careers.

“Youth unemployment runs at roughly twice the general unemployment rate,” he said. “Youth have struggled to access educational skills training opportunities disproportionately make up the ranks of unemployed youth. In September, the Civic Action report revealed that in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Areas, approximately 83,000 youth are currently unemployed or not enrolled in education or training.”

With that in mind, Microsoft founded YouthSpark in 2012 in order to bridge the gap between youth, employment, and technology. Microsoft’s involvement in the Hour of Code furthered that goal by showing kids that there is more to technology than just being a user.

“We think it’s a great way to engage young people with technology, showing them that they can be creative with technology, and not just users (of it),” said Lopes.

It’s often said that knowledge is power, and the Hour of Code is designed to empower youngsters by showing them that anyone can demystify coding. Knowledge often begets passion, and that passion could lead Canadian youth to explore careers in technology.

“We’ve been looking for ways to engage and assist young people, and create opportunities for them,” Lopes said. “When we look at the job market, there are statistics that show that the majority of jobs require some level of IT skills. Coding is a great way (to) engage them because it’s a universal language that anyone can learn. If we get young people engaged and passionate about it, it really opens up tremendous opportunities for them in terms of their education and potentially their entrepreneurship in the future.”

The Hour of Code events were held from Dec. 8 to 14 during Computer Science Education Week. Lopes, who hosted a session himself, indicates that the positive response from both event hosts and participants might lead to the development of a year-long program.

“I led an Hour of Code at a Boys and Girls Club in Rexdale, and within five to 10 minutes, the kids began to really get into it and enjoy it,” he said. “What we’re going to do is make it part of a year-round campaign where we will reach out to organizations that are interested in delivering this content to the young people they work with, and have them participate in it.”

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