Information, commerce, communication and entertainment all rely on computers. Unfortunately, only a tiny fraction of young students in Asia Pacific learn the basics of how computers, software, apps and websites work. A study by Microsoft Asia Pacific found young students generally feel relatively unsupported in their interest for coding. A low percentage of students have an opportunity to learn coding in school, whether as a core subject or an extra-curricular activity. Students surveyed said they wanted to know more about coding, but didn’t have the opportunities to gain the computer skills they need. This signalled an urgent need for educators to integrate it as a core subject in the school curriculum, to expose more students to coding so they are inspired to create, build and develop new technologies rather than just being passive users of it.
To address this, in 2014, Microsoft Asia Pacific launched the successful YouthSpark #WeSpeakCode program to give millions of people from all over the region a taste of what coding is, demonstrate how accessible learning coding can be, and create interest in computer programming courses and activities in schools. The campaign, hosted in schools and community hubs, saw thousands of enthusiastic young people across the region getting their first taste of learning basic coding skills, while many others took up more advanced challenges through hackathons and coding for social good. Working with partners across the region, Microsoft offered Microsoft-trained volunteers to visit schools to implement the #WeSpeakCode activity, and provided training to teachers to enable them to implement the #WeSpeakCode activity.
#WeSpeakCode is now an annual event and Microsoft will be providing coding kits to the first 50 events registered on the campaign website www.wespeakcode.net. The company is also providing tutorials and lessons on its website for people from all walks of life to host their own basic coding training in their schools and communities. Week-long campaigns see students get a taste of what coding is with the help of volunteers and teachers who will be showcasing coding through school and community events, tutorials and online activities.
Youth unemployment remains a major challenge in Southeast Asia. The estimated youth unemployment rate is almost three times that of the total unemployment rate, and approximately five times that of the adult unemployment rate. Given the young demographic profile of many of the countries in the region, equipping youth with education and skills to obtain productive jobs are likely to remain key policy concerns for many governments. As the technology sector continues to drive economic growth in Asia, youth with IT skills will find themselves better qualified for new employment and entrepreneurial activities.
Microsoft Asia Pacific maintains that they want to make sure people understand computer science and basic programming, as those skills are the foundation for many jobs today, and those that will be created in the future. Therefore it is extremely important the young people of the APAC region have access to the education and skills training needed to adequately prepare them. By focusing on one simple, achievable goal – a week of code – and tying it to the younger generation’s innate love of gadgets and apps, they hope to channel the energy of youth into a loud demand for more resources, education and skills training in coding, which they hope will pave a way forward to address the region’s youth unemployment crisis.
Microsoft continues to work in partnership with governments, non-profit organizations and businesses, to focus this initiative on providing opportunities for all youth to learn computer science. Microsoft YouthSpark is a global, company-wide initiative to empower young people to do more and achieve more in their lives – by providing access to technology skills and a better education, inspiring youth to imagine and realize a better future, and helping them find jobs or to start their own businesses.