Kate Arthur believes fiercely in the power of education.
“One time, I was in class teaching kids how to build a web page. One girl was so excited because her mom had lost her job and she said she would build a web site for her mom to sell things she makes. Isn’t that amazing? She took what she learned and immediately started solving problems with it.”
Arthur is the founder and executive director of Kids Code Jeunesse, a non-profit organization that teaches computational thinking and computer programming to children in primary school. Arthur started the organization three years ago after a career in marketing communications and subsequently establishing an IT company.
“I found that the inability to code was slowing me down in things I wanted to do in business,” says Arthur. “I have three daughters and I realized that they need to know how to code to move forward in a digital world.”
Coding is basic literacy
Kids Code Jeunesse provides courses in coding for children in classrooms and community centres. “It teaches them how to be better thinkers and creators,” says Arthur. “It’s important to strengthening Canada’s future and it’s especially important to engage young girls.”
Navdeep Bains, Canada’s minister of innovation, science, and economic development supports the idea. “Basic training should start very, very early, and continue throughout an employee’s career,” he said at a recent conference. “Children as young as my daughters, who are six and nine… should be taught to code at the same time they are learning how to read and write in English and French.”
Kids Code Jeunesse is growing quickly with a team of paid instructors and over 900 volunteers. Arthur’s efforts were recognized earlier this year when she received the Emerging Leader Award from Canadian Women in Communications and Technology.
Entrepreneurship starts early
Children also need to learn the skills of entrepreneurship, says Arthur. She is a coach and mentor for the international girls’ competition Technovation, which challenges girls to build applications to solve real world problems. “We need to make sure that young girls get their voice and are empowered as leaders,” she said.
The lesson in entrepreneurship has to be shared with all children, not just the girls, she says. Arthur describes one instance when she was working with an 8-year old boy in a coding class. “I had to step out of the class briefly to take a business call and the boy asked why I went out. When I told him that I have an IT company, he said, you’re a woman – you can’t own a business”.
It all starts with education, says Arthur. “The fact is that there are not that many women in business and technology and we need to stand up and make sure they see that a woman can run a business and succeed.”
This is one in a series of stories inspired by the Pay It Forward theme of the 2016 Women in the Channel Luncheon.