There are over 2 billion computers and more than 2.5 million apps in the world today, integrated into nearly every aspect of our lives. They influence how we work, drive, access healthcare, vote and more – and their uses are only growing. But how much do we really know about them? The answer for many of us is very little. The nonprofit Code.org is on a mission to change that.
In 2013, twin brothers Hadi and Ali Partovi launched Code.org with a single video about the importance of learning how to code. Their mission: every student in every school has the opportunity to learn computer science as part of their core K-12 education. The reaction to the video was astounding. The video became number one on YouTube for a day and 15,000 schools reached out to them for help.
Fast forward to today, Code.org engages 57 million students and 1.8 million teachers globally – all with a staff of less than a hundred
employees. The nonprofit has empowered 5.2 million students with basic coding skills by teaching computer science in the classroom during the academic school year. In the United States 45 percent of active student accounts are female and 50 percent are from marginalized racial and ethnic groups. Additionally, computer science is taught in roughly half of schools in the United States with most of them using Code.org content, which is also used in over 180 countries around the world.
How do they do it? One teacher led classroom lesson or coding project at a time, driven by their annual Hour of Code campaign, paired with a comprehensive computer science classroom-based curriculum. Hour of Code raises awareness that anyone can code through a one-hour tutorial designed for all ages in over 68 languages and engages millions of students and teachers around the globe. The campaign is then supported by teacher training for primary and secondary school teachers to teach curriculum within school classrooms. Focusing their efforts to partner with Title 1 funded schools and school districts throughout the United States was key to their success in increasing diversity in computer science and reaching students of all backgrounds where they are — at their skill-level, in their schools, and in ways that inspire them to keep learning.
On the surface, it’s easy to see Code.org as simply helping address the current global IT skills gap, but they are doing so much more. “Kids in elementary school are going to have jobs that don’t exist today. It’s about empowering all students, not just a lucky few, with career opportunities in all industries,” says Leonardo Ortiz Villacorta, vice president of international partnerships at Code.org. “From a pedagogical standpoint, computer science teaches critical thinking and collaboration skills, which are key for the current and future workforce.”
“There is also a digital citizenship aspect of it,” Leonardo added. “If most of what happens in your life – the way you work, live, interact with the government – has to do with a screen, you need to understand how it works. It’s now become an important way of being an informed, empowered citizen.”
Although Code.org is known for providing engaging, accessible coding curriculum, their work doesn’t end there. The staff works across the education spectrum training teachers, partnering with large school districts, advocating to change government policies, expanding internationally via partnerships, and marketing to break stereotypes. But the organization cannot do it alone. Funders and partners like Cisco are integral to their work.
Partnership with Cisco
Building upon its widespread success in the United States, Code.org is now scaling to reach more underserved populations globally. A few years ago, the Cisco Foundation team was introduced to Code.org and a true partnership began. Working together, Cisco and Code.org staff identified and invested in high-impact platform initiatives to bridge over barriers to education through platform investments enabling language and curriculum contextualization and modularity, international educational partner networks, and prototype development for classrooms with intermittent or no connection to the Internet.
“Inclusive investments are at the foundation of the work we do at Cisco. Our nonprofit investment partners commit to serving at least 65 percent of their beneficiaries from underserved communities,” Kyle Thornton, manager of the education investment portfolio for Cisco and the Cisco Foundation. “Code.org has been a model for reaching students throughout the United States with their strategic approach and, now with the support of Cisco and others, Code.org is ambitiously implementing their goal to enable all students the opportunity to access computer science education globally.”
Cisco’s support is enabling Code.org to expand computer education in Latin America; translate their curriculum into Indonesian, Russian, Chinese (both traditional and simplified), Polish, Turkish, and Korean; and prototype an offline solution that will allow schools and individuals to access their content without an internet connection.
The latter has become even more critical in the pandemic. For example, in Colombia, a middle-income Latin American country, only a small percentage of students have been able to continue learning online during the pandemic while the majority only have access to TV and radio. As part of the grant from Cisco, Code.org is embarking on a two-year pilot of the offline education solution in a few countries, including Chile, Columbia, Thailand, and Uzbekistan.
“It’s about democratizing access to this content,” says Leonardo. “Many of our users are accessing our content in English. The problem with that segment of the population is that it tends to be the privileged part of the global population.”
Leonardo stresses the importance of having a solid technology foundation to make the global expansion successful. “Much of the work we’re doing is engineering work. That is what I like about this grant. It’s not flashy,” he says. “It’s behind the scenes, but ultimately it will benefit millions of people.”
Cisco has been involved at the earliest stages of international expansion planning and market development with Code.org. Partner networks throughout Latin America, Central Europe and Asia now have a computer science curriculum accessible by primary school students starting in Spring 2021. Adoption of their solutions will begin with the 2021-2022 school term throughout the world.
“At the end of the day, this is about creating a movement and driving progress around the globe so there is a systemic change in education. That’s very, very hard to achieve. It’s not something we can change alone. We work in partnership with other nonprofit organizations and companies like Cisco that understand the importance of skilling the young people in their countries, so they have a path to job opportunities in the future,” says Leonardo.
To learn more about Code.org visit Code.org.