It’s nine o’clock and school is out for the holidays. But dozens of children are hard at work on the ground floor of a Parisian apartment block that’s been converted into classrooms. They are learning how to code, and how to use that code to command moveable objects made of Lego.
“It’s very important for me that kids realize that coding has an impact on the material world,” explains Claude Terosier, the founder of Magic Makers.
The relationship between artificial intelligence and human development is being debated more than ever before as algorithms, computers and smartphones play a growing role in our personal and professional lives.
Coding has yet to make it onto the school curriculum in France. Magic Makers is going some way to fill that gap by offering courses during out-of-school hours. But as a private enterprise, the majority of its clients are from privileged backgrounds.
“We set out by wanting to make coding accessible to all. But we struggle to attract people from poorer backgrounds due to our fees,” laments Terosier.
The US embassy sponsored coding workshops for children from socially deprived backgrounds last summer, but it is not clear what the long-term impact of a one-off programme will be on the children who took part and the communities they come from.
Coding the gender gap
The biggest divide in the world of coding is the gender gap. Less than 10 percent of the children who enroll for courses at Magic Makers are girls.
“What’s at play are unconscious stereotypes of parents thinking that engineering is for boys, and that girls opt for softer subject,” says Terosier.
Scientific studies show that girls have the same capability to learn coding and other technical skills as boys. But marketing certain products as suitable for girls and others for boys is shaping choices made by parents and their children.
“I think it is crucial that everyone understands technology and uses it to create beautiful things and solve the problems of the world, rather than leaving it to just half of the population,” reflects Terosier.
The clock strikes twelve and Terosier rushes off to visit another of the twenty-one learning centres Magic Makers runs in France.