Published: June 15th, 2016

It sounds like the start of a fun children’s movie.

Code Mobile, a van outfitted with tech to be essentially a computer lab on wheels rolled out of Toronto last month and is slowly making its way towards the east coast, then back across the country to the west and up to the north, all the while making stops along communities to teach children the basics of programming.

Yet, it’s not fiction.

The summer-long initiative, spearheaded by Ladies Learning Code (LLC), aims to bring more technology education to kids in communities around Canada with a focus on girls and those without access – an issue that may not receive the attention it needs.

Code Mobile’s goal is lofty: to reach 10,000 kids in at least 50 communities across the country, but LLC believes it’s doable. Since the initiative launched in Toronto last month, it has already visited 11 cities. As of writing, LLC claims to have reached more than 4,800 kids, so almost halfway there.

Code Mobile 2

While it requires a lot of collaboration, the idea behind it is simple.

Ladies Learning Code is a non-profit organization with 25 chapters across Canada that runs tech workshops and after school programs with a focus on women, youth and the trans community.

The van is meant to allow it to bring its content to remote places, which is also where the collaboration comes in.

LLC contacts or has received requests over the years from individuals in the community, such as teachers, camp counsellors, librarians and the like connecting it to student groups.

Once it has made the connection, it plans a date and location to meet the students, usually a group of 30 to 60, for festival-style activities where they will cycle through making games on laptops, generate art, play with Google Cardboard and more.

The plan, though wide scale, is backed by a pilot in the spring that took place in Ontario and Quebec, the organization’s own 25 permanent chapters, as well as funding from various parties, including Microsoft.

“Through our pilot, we learned that shorter initial experiences with technology worked really well,” Laura Plant, LLC’s co-executive director, told CDN. “We allowed kids to dip their toes in and provided them with the tools to take it from there.”

Other elements, including outfitting the van and travel logistics were also ironed out in the pilot.

Throughout the four-month trip, a core team of only two staff is accompanied by one or two more individuals, who are on the road for only part of the summer. In the various communities, which include Calgary, Charlottetown, Halifax, Kelowna, Montreal, Sudbury, Ont. and Whitehorse, the staff is met by both the local leaders as well as chapters.

LLC measures success by staying in touch with the communities it visits. In places it has had longer presence, such as in Toronto, girls that were part of summer camps sometimes joined later on as volunteers or continued well into post-secondary positions in the tech industry.

Code Mobile 3

The group also tries to focus on open-source tools and resources that kids can access long after the organization has left.

“There is also that more immediate impact, when kids have ‘Aha!’ moments, going from having no confidence to having self-proclamations as a coder,” Plant said. “You see that immediate impact, and you try to have a long-term effect.”