Hidden Figures inspires girls who code

Saturday, March 18, 2017

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Learning how to code is good for your brain’s development and can take you to the top of your chosen profession.

That’s what Melanie Subratie, chairperson of Jamaica Girls Coding, told more than 80 girls, aged 11-14, from high schools and places of safety, at a special viewing of the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures late last month.

The film, starring Octavia Spencer, Taraji P Henson, and Janelle Monae, tells the story of a group of black women who played pivotal roles in the early days of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s space programme, in particular John Glen’s landmark first orbit around the Earth.

The Jamaica Girls Coding event, staged in concert with the Seprod Foundation, was designed to inspire girls from Kingston High School, Trench Town Polytechnic, Merl Grove High School, Campion College, Homestead Child Care Facilities, and Maxfield Park Children’s Home to embrace what is possible when they enhance their skills in coding and mathematics.

"If you’re thinking of any profession, these skills can only get you to the top of that profession. And learning them is actually pretty good for your brain, as it enhances critical thinking and many other areas," Subratie told the girls prior to the showing of the film at the Palace Cineplex at Sovereign Centre.

She said, too, that there were themes in the movie that were relevant to Jamaica today, urging the girls to take the lessons home, use them wisely and empower themselves. Some of those themes found fertile ground with the girls who spoke glowingly about the movie afterwards.

"I thought it was really good because it showed how much girls can do even though we are in a genderised society where men should do this and women should do that," said Lauren Campbell of the LEGO Robotics Group who attended the viewing.

Kadie Hunter of Merl Grove said she was inspired to work hard to achieve success, no matter how hard people tried to put her down.

But the children were not the only ones moved by Hidden Figures. Lorna Green, the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Digital Transtec Limited, said she was moved to tears.

"My background is computer science and mathematics. I came out of that time when those programming languages were used," said Green, a member of Girls who Code and Women Business Owners. "As soon as I saw it I put it on the table and said, ‘Let’s bring the girls and some boys to see it.’ So, I am happy, excited, and hope we continue this in terms of the very good movies that are coming out to inspire young people today."

General secretary of the People’s National Party Julian Robinson was also in attendance, and he, too, found the film uplifting.

"It was very inspiring," said Robinson, a co-founder of the Girls Who Code camp. "There are so many lessons; issues of breaking down barriers, striving for excellence, not allowing people to limit what you can do, and the power of diversity and the importance of not having policies which discriminate against persons," he said. "I hope it was an inspiration for the young ladies to show them that anything they set their minds on… they can achieve anything in life and that they can be world beaters."

For more than three years the Seprod Foundation has funded Jamaica Girls Coding — a programme through which young girls are taught computer coding.

Subratie believes that Jamaicans are creative, and that learning coding can take Jamaica to the next level.

"We came on board with Jamaica Girls Coding, and over three years provided summer camps for up to 80 girls to learn computer programming…to improve on our knowledge economy," she said at an event in 2016 to announce 26 Seprod Foundation scholarships awarded to successful Grade Six Achievement Test students.

"Jamaicans are creative people, incredibly entrepreneurial, so why not be creators of technology and not just consumers of it?" she asked.




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