Learning to code: inclusion and digital equality for girls need a shift in policy

iamtheCODE is doing all it can to empower young girls, encourage them to learn to code and embrace a brilliant career in tech

There are 25,000 girls in 68 countries learning to code as part of the global iamtheCODE initiative. Founder Lady Mariéme Jamme discusses its success and why governments need to change their policies to ensure more females have access to an inclusive digital environment.

Connectivity, infrastructure and content are the three key ingredients for inclusion and digital equality for girls worldwide. All depend on governments having the right policies that create an environment that ensures that those from marginalised communities are not left behind.

That is why Lady Mariéme Jamme is pioneering for system change. As well as founding her own technology company SpotOne Global Solutions, recently changed to Accurate Solutions, she launched the iamtheCODE initiative. It is the first Africa-led global movement to mobilise governments, businesses and investors to support girls in science, technology, engineering, maths, arts and design.

The aim is to teach one million girls how to code by 2030. Over 26,000 girls, already in the programme, stem from 69 countries, including Brazil, Kenya, South Africa, Japan and the UK.

Jamme, born and raised in Senegal, understands how important it is to have the right digital skills. Having taught herself seven programming languages, she has gone on to win awards for her technology know-how.

Her goal now is to “get the policy-makers to change their policies, businesses to hire people who are different to them, girls and boys who live in council estates in the UK, in the slums of Africa, in the favelas of Brazil to have a seat at the table or to participate on activities where they can feel included.

“You can have all the software, content and the connections you want, but if the policy-makers, the digital champions in government, don’t understand what’s needed to make the polices more favourable to women and girls, we’re wasting our time.”

Building content

What’s needed is ensuring that girls have connectivity and access to IT infrastructure – the computer hardware. The third essential component is the content.

Jamme explains: “We’re not all on the same level when it comes to technological innovation, so we need to build the content. We talk about STEM subjects as though they are ‘posh’ and only for young girls growing up in Chelsea. We need to take the conversation back to basics and teach ALL girls coding – giving them the ability to create solutions.

“That’s why I love coding. With just a computer, I can create a tech solution that will make a girl safe in Morocco; or help a woman in Guildford gain seamless access to a blog, application or innovation.

“We need to make sure the content is both off and online, inclusive and in different languages. Whether you are  building or rebuilding inclusion in a post-COVID-19 environment, you have to think very carefully about connectivity, infrastructure and content.” 

She adds that as working from home will become the norm, it will be more important than ever to make these available. Her ambition for 2021is to “force the telecom companies and governments to make sure that young girls and boys are learning real skills and that women are being re-skilled so they can get good jobs.”

See also: Code First Girls – supporting women towards a career in tech

Create not consume

Also on the agenda for 2021 is the launch of the blended curriculum for iamtheCODE. Jamme benefited from blended learning herself and feels that with most girls on the programme on average aged 11, which means by 2030 they’ll be looking for jobs, it was important to invest in them now.

Looking ahead, Jamme is optimistic that iamtheCODE is building one of the biggest pipelines in the world for girls from marginalised backgrounds. There’s always the danger that companies may not change their hiring habits, leaving some people behind. Refreshingly, she has noticed a shift in behaviour in the past few months.

She is keen to teach youngsters to be creators, not just consumers, pointing out that “if you want to be like Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos, you have to create. And it’s going to take time. If you invest now in your learning, ten years from now, you will see the results. If you don’t do it, it’s never going to happen.”

Jamme is justifiably proud of what iamtheCode has achieved. She says: “It’s changing lives. We’re the first organisation in the world to teach girls in Japan how to code. And the girls love it. They call themselves iamtheCODE keepers.

“Teaching girls how to code is not easy, especially if you come from a traumatised background. It’s not easy because you don’t have computers, the connectivity every day or someone to look after you. But from Nepal to Afghanistan, our girls are not dropping out. The favela girls in Brazil are not dropping out because they are all so engaged and know what a difference it will make to their lives.

“I’m now investing in the Caribbean girls coding and in the process of giving them computers because I feel that there are further removed from the whole conversation. We’re going to be twinning Senegal and Barbados to see if we can get the girls coding together in 2021.”

Jamme adds that iamtheCODE welcomes donors and volunteers – who don’t have to have a STEM background. In particular, the programme needs project managers, mentors and writers who can help tell the stories.

Making a difference

Jamme is particularly concerned about cybersecurity and online threats to girls and the use of their data. She points out: “There are 80 million refugees, and 67% of them are women and girls. They have no idea how the data is sold, so we’re going to focus the programme on data, big data and machine learning – working with companies to ensure that the girls’ data is used with dignity.”

Social media platforms also pose a danger, says Jamme who spent three months persuading girls in Brazil not to use Instagram. “They’ve since told me that removing them from Instagram has changed their lives. They’re doing more coding classes, they are more engaged, doing community work and more focused on deciding who they are.”

However, she is not resting on her laurels any time soon. “I feel that my small voice is making a difference. But I don’t think I’ve done enough yet. But it definitely makes me proud that with each small, but incremental progress these girls wake up every day happy.”


Lady Mariéme Jamme took part in the ‘Reinventing Business Through Inclusion’ panel discussion at The Good Business Festival, which is available to watch at https://thegoodbusinessfestival.com/on-demand/.

See also: Culture counts but iamtheCODE is pushing through to help girls in Africa

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