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From herding to coding: empowering Kenya's youth for a brighter future

Coding   -  
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In the semi-arid parts of northern Kenya, a mere six rainfalls over the past three years has resulted in one of the worst droughts in living memory.

The communities here are mainly nomadic pastoralists who rely on their cattle for wealth and survival. Eighteen-year-old Kelvin Lesiyani has been looking after his father's cattle since he was old enough to walk. It is part of growing up here. He went to school briefly and was taken out to do this job.

"So many of my cows have already died. If this drought continues, more will die, I will end up with nothing. I want to learn about computers too so that I can see if I can make money that way," he says. The climate crisis proves that the old ways of life must give way to the new if future communities here are to survive. Now, one school is teaching young children drawn from pastoralist communities computer coding.

Enaikishomi primary school is located in Laikipia county, in Northern Kenya, and offers Information and Communication Technology (ICT) courses in its standard school curriculum. Around 200 students attend the school, which charges KSH 400 ($3.25) per term.

The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy provides tablets and internet connectivity to the school for its coding course. Partnerships between wildlife conservancies and schools to protect the future of wildlife and communities is a model that is growing in popularity. Located in a remote area, the school isn't connected to the grid and powers the tablets with solar energy.Thirteen-year-old Everjoy Wahito is a pupil at Enakishomi Primary School.

Before she came to the school, she had neither used electricity nor seen a computer. But since her school began the coding program four years ago, Wahito believes her future will be more secure. "Before I came here, I had never seen a computer because, in the place we were, there was no computer and internet it was to go search somewhere, but since I came here I have seen a computer and a lot of gadgets in here and skills that will help me in the future, when I grow up," she says.

According to Matthew Munyi, principal of the school, getting these young students a head start on coding will help close the gap between them and students in more developed countries.

"When we teach kids coding and ensure that they are taught to a standard that is maximum to them. We believe, one, it will open new avenues for them. Number two, it will help retention of children in school and more admissions of children who now want to leave the traditional lifestyles around this area which is a pastoralist area, come and join school. And number three we think they will fit well into the world in future as global citizens," he says.

Dorothy Kawira is a parent to a student at the school. She says her daughter used to find it hard to learn in her previous school, located in a pastoralist area.

"She was in a school in a pastoral area, so I decided to take her to Enaikishomi primary school whereby she will get digital skills that in life she will be able to help herself and also help me as a mother. During my time or in my age, most of my age mates did not make it to learn, to get education," Kawira says.. And the drought isn't helping. "The prolonged drought that is being experienced in Northern Kenya is starting to bring in new challenges. We are starting to have low enrolment of boys in schools and we are highly suspecting that they are being drawn from schools to look after livestock," says Purity Kinoti, head of education at Lewa wildlife conservancy.

Yet children can only benefit from coding skills, says education consultant Innocent Kimutai. "I think coding is a very, very good skill to teach our young ones," he says. "It is a universal language. A language that does not need translation like the others. Everybody speaks it everywhere in the world. If these skills are nurtured in these kids, these kids will be able to adapt in any environment, they will be highly employable, and they will be able to adapt anywhere in the world."

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