Q: Please tell us about yourself and the path that led you the Ghana Code Club. Have you encountered any obstacles on your path to pursuing your studies, and if so, how have you generally handled your challenges and adversity?
Appiah: I have always desired to have a career in IT, after starting working as a secretary for a Ghanaian IT consultancy firm in Accra in 2000. I admired the consultants as they carried along with their work, especially the only lady in their midst. This led me to look for a school to be enrolled in to study web technology, but unfortunately, the fees at the time were too high for me, as such I opted to hire a web designer to teach me the fundamentals of programming using HTML. This was how I got introduced into the IT industry. I then started practicing on my own, day-in and day-out to perfect my skills. Soon, I started looking for jobs online and got lucky: I had 4 opportunities at the start of my search. Out of the 4 potential jobs, one was a small telecom company based in the USA who needed my services as a virtual assistant to provide both administrative and technical support to its agents worldwide. After working there for a while, I got so overwhelmed and resigned as a secretary, and decided, however, to start my own Virtual Assistance business. Due to an increasing workload, I had to hire staff to help out and rented an office space. I was so happy and overly excited about the paradigm shift in my life that I yearned to share my story and mentor girls into the field of information, communication and technology (ICT). As a result, in 2007, I registered my business: Healthy Career Initiative, as a non-governmental organization (NGO), which is a type of non-profit, but soon experienced time constraints managing it and my work.
Finally as the years passed I got married and started a family. My work scheduled slowed down, and decided to start operating from home again to make time for my family. One day as my son turned 5 years, I was looking for a platform to train him on the basics of programming when I came across a group of children from the UK using the Makey Technology kits to create digital content and fun activities, which picked my interest. Suddenly my passion for my NGO (Healthy Career Initiative) was aroused again, and I quickly made plans to revive it as a coding club: Ghana Code Club.
Q: Tell us about the Ghana Code Club: Who created it and why was it created? What programs does it offer and who does it serve?
Appiah: Healthy Career Initiative, the NGO I founded in 2007, gave life to Ghana Code Club. Ghana Code Club was established to inspire the youth on digital literacy. We currently empower Ghanaian children to learn basic programming skills with projects from Scratch, HTML + CSS and python. Children create games, animations, stories and websites with our projects. We currently are in 13 schools with 18 volunteers.
Q: Why coding?
Appiah: Learning to code is an important skill now that we are living in a digital age. It’s not just enough for children to know how to use technology. They should know how it works and how to build it too.
Learning to code doesn’t just mean you can become a developer - it strengthens problem solving and logical thinking skills, and is useful for a range of other disciplines, careers and hobbies.
Q: In your view, what unique challenges African women entrepreneurs such as you face in creating and running a technology business?
Appiah: Lack of funding and support. You have a wonderful idea but implementing it requires a financial push but we are lacking that push. Many people in Africa do not understand that you are in to solve a problem they assume it is your own business.
We are currently fundraising, for our fundraising effort and to support us please go to our Global Giving's page: https://goto.gg/23243.
Q: What challenges does Ghana Code Club currently face? What opportunities do you see in the future?
Appiah: We lack the right infrastructure that will make our work easy. For example, out of the 13 schools we volunteer in, only 1 school has internet services and a projector, but our goal is to create digital fun and share it throughout. Due to no internet access in 99% of the local schools, we have to put in extra efforts to make our sessions fun and engaging. For instance, before a club session begins, the kids must be inspired with the outcome of the project they are about to create, but since there are literally few to no resources available, volunteers have to hold their laptops up high for kids to watch, or the staff has to move around the classroom with the laptop for all to see. Other times, all the classroom kids may need to come and gather around one computer to see what ever we want to show them. It is very tedious this way to do things.
Q: In your opinion, what groups in Ghana are the most underrepresented in STEM? Secondly, what key steps should we undertake to promote scientific literacy and STEM amongst these specific science and technology underrepresented groups? How can we increase the STEM participation of these aforementioned groups?
Appiah: Due to little to no infrastructure, elementary school and senior high school students do not get the required skill set in STEM, so I think they should definitely be considered as underrepresented group. Since I started my coding movement, I witness a sharp increase in the abilities of the students that we work with via our programs. Indeed, we are in a digital world, so efforts must be made to better represent these underrepresented students. Some think learning coding or being digital literate is to get a job in a technology firm, I my opinion it goes beyond that with an emphasis on the right infrastructure.
Q: Finally, in your opinion, what is the importance of STEM education, innovation, technology, entrepreneurship and investment as well as infrastructures and the rule of law in the socio-economic development of Ghana?
Appiah: Technology is reinventing the world. STEM education must be taken more seriously as this is one of the areas in which we can breed innovators, entrepreneurs and problem solvers. Ghana, as a country is currently suffering with energy crisis. We need to focus on innovations in the realm of self-sustainable energies, especially since Ghana already has the right resources for renewable energy. Start-ups are struggling day-in day-out with start up capital. Developers can arise to resolve such problems by creating real apps to be patronized by a lot of people. I believe that training must start from elementary schools so that kids grow along with the necessary skills and mindset.