Computer science education goes mainstream in Halifax

Local youth programs make hardware assembly and programming accessible to kids and teens.

Campers learn computer science at a young age at SuperNOVA. (Photo by SuperNOVA)

By Rose Behar

“Young people need to appreciate the professional aspects of the new digital world. Supply (of skilled workers) has become a bottleneck for growth in the economic sector.”

This was the message from the by European commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship, Antonio Tajani, at a recent press conference.

The European Union has identified a deficit of skilled workers in one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, technology, and has put out a call to action for youth.

The federal budget focuses heavily on funding business-led innovation in the field.

But with all this pressure to become ‘Generation 2.0,’ how do the young people feel? Are they interested in computer science?

The administrative director of Dalhousie’s SuperNOVA camp program, Mara Fontana, says in large part, yes.

And with over 650 campers per summer in the Halifax area, the numbers back her up.

SuperNOVA runs science and technology camps for kids from grades one to 12 throughout the summer, as well as select programs in the winter. One of the main components of the camp’s programming is always computer science, which they teach to all ages.

“We’ve even had a four year old make snap circuits,” says Fontana.

Mainly, they instruct campers on how to assemble computer hardware, and do some light programming and web design.

Fontana says SuperNOVA actively seeks to teach these skills to any student who expresses interest, regardless of their family’s income.

“We don’t want to turn away any kid because of financial issues,” she says.

Approximately $17,000 in camp bursaries were given out last year.

SuperNOVA may add to their computer science offerings soon with the addition of a newly-created branch called CompCamp. It’ll focus on teaching more advanced computer science skills to high school students.

CompCamp co-founders Michael Johnston, left, and Abdul Rahman, right, work at Startup Weekend. (Rose Behar photo)

Taylor Quinn, co-founder of the program, which launched at the recent tech venture competition Startup Weekend, says the idea sprang from the technology curriculum available at local high schools.

“We think it’s important to give youth more options to learn technology skills that aren’t being taught in high schools,” she says.

“It comes to a point where you ask, if students know more than their teachers on a subject, how can they learn?”