Time to Code is a volunteering initiative developed by Business in the Community Northern Ireland (BITCNI) in partnership with Code Club and supported by the Department of Education and Belfast Harbour.
Time to Code a Success at Seaview Primary School
Bringing volunteers from Northern Ireland Businesses into local primary schools, the programme helps pupils develop coding and other ICT skills, along with the additional skills of team working, problem solving and collaborative thinking.
Seaview Primary School first got involved with Time to Code after lockdown, and since then the programme has been a success for the school, its students and volunteer tutor, Stephen Loughins.
Teacher, Kathryn Dawson, has been involved with the programme for the first time this year. She says “during the pandemic students couldn’t use the ICT suite, so Time to Code was a great opportunity to reintroduce them to it in a really fun and engaging way. Coding is something that the children, even at a very young age, are aware of as important for their future, so it was a perfect subject area and has provided them with a lot of valuable skills. A lot of these children didn’t have the opportunity to work with the Scratch programme before, so it was a great introduction for them. One of the great things about the programme is how it passes on not only the skills themselves but also a knowledge and understanding of how these skills can help the kids in the future and the jobs they can lead to.’
Introduced in 2017 to go alongside BITC’s pre-existing Time to Count and the award-winning Time to Read programme, Time to Code aims to address the prevalent place that IT skills have in education, even for primary school students. However, the nature of the programme also allows students to develop their personal and social skills. Working with volunteers allows them to engage with new people and naturally improves their communication and confidence, both with the volunteer and with each other.
Kathryn Dawson says, ‘Time to Code has been great for teamwork. A lot of the time the students were helping each other complete tasks and that really benefited their communication skills and taught them how important it is to help each other out. I’ve noticed since they began participating in Time to Code, the children are a lot more confident in their decision-making skills and their risk-taking skills.
‘Time to Code has also improved the self-esteem of our students, because at its core it is encouraging them to have a go and try something new. It’s also great for them to work with the volunteers, to see different faces, in particular when it’s someone who has real world knowledge and experience to share with them.’
To become a Time to Code volunteer, all you need is a level of comfort with ICT and Coding and an interest in supporting primary pupils to explore their potential. The commitment is for one hour a week during term time, initially for one cohort, with the option to extend. BITC will match volunteers with pupils in a Primary school close to their home or place of work.
Stephen Loughins has been volunteering with Time to Code for a number of years. He explains, ‘I first got involved with the programme when I was nearing retirement and starting to think about new things I wanted to do. When I heard of the programme I thought it was something that would suit me, because I’d been a computer programmer and considered the opportunity of going into schools as a good way of giving back and passing on some of the experience I’d gained over the years.’
The Time to Code programme aims to provide its volunteers with a great personal development opportunity, a sense of achievement and a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Part of this comes through the knowledge that we’re providing kids with vital IT skills, but also the sense that they’re also developing key personal attributes.
Stephen says, ‘I think these programmes are vital, not least because we now live in such a digital world. Kids need to have digital skills and in Northern Ireland there are a growing number of opportunities for future employment in digital fields. One of our focuses as we deliver the programme is to explain to kids why they’re doing what they’re doing and how it relates to the outside world. It’s important even at a young age that they know they’re building skills they’ll find useful later – that really gets them engaged. For me, helping kids build up those skills is very rewarding, and to watch their skills and their confidence levels grow as the programme develops is phenomenal. By working with them every week we’re giving these kids something they might not otherwise get, which is why this programme is so important. I love doing it, and I’d recommend it to anyone.’
After what has been a difficult few years for schools and their students, BITCNI are proud to continue running the Time to Code Programme and look forward to next year, where we hope even greater numbers will support our initiatives and best of all even more students will benefit from them. If you are a school or business who may wish to get involved with ‘Time To’ or simply want to find out more, please visit: Time to Code | Business in the Community Northern Ireland (bitcni.org.uk)