Lea Cairns hopes Bankwest’s coding program will eventually be available to all schools in WA. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Bankwest program cracks code for student engagement

Lea Cairns says Western Australian schools should implement playful ways for children to engage in technological learning, as students confront a job market increasingly in demand for graduates with STEM knowledge and skills.

As the coding program manager at Bankwest, Ms Cairns said novel and inventive programs that included games and other competitive activities were some of the best ways to engage children in a STEM education.

“We know today there are so many jobs that didn’t exist 10 years ago, and the way it’s going there are going to be so many jobs that exist tomorrow that didn’t exist today,” she said.

“Many of these jobs will involve technical and coding skills, and it’s important to open more doors for careers.

“As much as I want my children to do whatever they want, the more opportunity they have to do different things at school in a way that’s engaging and playful and raises their interest in these subjects is important.”

Ms Cairns’ comments come two months after the successful pilot of Bankwest’s coding program, from which 32 students at Prendiville Catholic College graduated.

That pilot, which began in mid-2018, was taught by graduates of Bankwest’s technology program and facilitated a way for students at Prendiville in years seven to 12 to develop their coding skills.

Ms Cairns said the graduates themselves largely came up with content for each session, de-emphasising the theory behind coding and instead focusing on how it could be applied creatively.

“The graduates sat there and showed [the students] coding, and they went on Stash and created a hangman game through coding,” she said.

“They did a capture the flag type event for the last session, where they had to go through different competitions and there were scores kept live on the board.

“It was just a really engaging way of teaching the kids, and it’s important we do that, because everything’s changing and we have to change how we teach things in school.”

Prendiville Catholic College principal Mark Antulov said he was happy with the program’s outcome, saying it helped students to understand what skills would be required of them when they leave school.

“The students have been immersed in a truly agile way of working, which will be invaluable to them in years to come,” he said.

“They’ve all got so much out of it.

“We can’t wait to start the new year with a new, even bigger group.”

Mr Antulov said he looked forward to running the program again this year, with Ms Cairns also expressing optimism that the program would continue at Prendiville in 2020.

Ms Cairns said it was her ambition to eventually make the program available to all schools in WA, while understanding the logistical challenge of attempting to expand the program at such a scale.

For the time being, however, she said she was happy to offer a program to schools that made a task as difficult and important as coding accessible and enjoyable for students.

“I have a kid, and if he one day went to a school and it had this sort of a program, I’d be pretty happy,” she said.


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