Girls in ICT hackathon spurs interest

By FALON FOLKES
Career & Education reporter

Sunday, April 29, 2018

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OVER 800 girls across the Caribbean participated in the International Telecommunication Union's second annual Girls in ICT Day Hackathon last Thursday.

Simultaneously held in Jamaica, Barbados, St Vincent, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana, the Jamaican component, staged by SheLeadsIT in partnership with Change Makers Development, saw 20 girls' teams gathered at the Mona Visitors' Lodge to vie for prizes.

Co-founder of SheLeadsIT Bridget Lewis told Career & Education that there is a need for a gender-balanced workforce in IT, and the hackathons seek to do this. The theme for 2018 was #SafeGirlsSafeFuture.

“We have them looking at a number of things as it relates to #SafeGirlsSafeFuture. We're looking at girls being cyber safe, relationship safe, home safe and street safe. They will choose one of those areas and apply the technology to provide a solution to talk about preventative methods,” Lewis explained.

She added: “This is very important for us. As you know the [incidences surrounding] safety of girls is very worrying. A lot of girls are at risk.”

Technology is moving at a rapid speed, which is why Lewis said that, “every sector of our lives, irrespective of what we're doing, is going to be about ICT”.

“In 10 years, 80 per cent of jobs are going to have a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) component,” she explained.

“STEM jobs are going to replace 20 jobs currently held by women. So if we don't encourage and inspire girls to be engaged actively in creating technology then they're going to be marginalised. That has significant negative repercussions as it relates to economic empowerment,” she said.

Lewis pointed out that the invitation to participate was extended to many different schools across the island, because SheLeadsIT and Change Makers Development Ltd wanted to plant a seed that needs to grow in all local schools.

“These girls are going to go back to inspire girls who didn't think this was something they would want to be interested in,” Lewis said.

The event also catered to schools which just wanted to observe the day's events. The observers, as they were dubbed, engaged in exciting activities including playing games via 3D virtual glasses and getting the inside scoop on how drones operate. Not only did they have fun, but they had the opportunity to network with women who had thriving IT careers.

Nadine Ford, who is the IT teacher for Nain High School in St Elizabeth, was elated that her students were able to observe the day's activities.

“I am pleased with the initiative. I think this has been long needed for our girls to be empowered. This broadened their horizons, and let them see technology in action,” she said.

And her students were very much enthused with the happenings at the hackathon, she shared.

“They are enjoying it and they are particularly interested in the drones. They went to the Scotiabank area where they had to use the 3D glasses. So they were interested. There are some things that they were clueless about and they were asking me, but I shunned them because I wanted them to ask other people (the experts),” she said.

The educator said she was looking forward to having her students participate next year.

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