JAN 26, 2018 8:01 AM PST

Girls in Syria Are Learning to Code With a Kittens Game

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

More than 10 million Syrians have been displaced and hundreds of thousands have been killed in the civil war which has been ongoing since about 2011. Among these populations are many children who have missed out on receiving a consistent education. A nonprofit called Techfugees has teamed up with the makers of a game called “Erase All Kittens” to give girls in Syria greater opportunities – and an opportunity for online fun -- by teaching them to code.

Girls at a coding workshop in Syria, Erase All Kittens Game, credit: Newsweek, Erase All Kittens

“The game has helped girls in Syria who have never coded before, by inspiring them to see a future in the kind of work that will offer opportunities in a 21st century economy,” Erase All Kittens Co-founder Dee Saigal tells Newsweek. Erase All Kittens is described on its completed Kickstarter page as, “An epic adventure game designed to inspire children -- especially girls -- to code, whilst teaching them professional languages.” It seeks to make coding more accessible and to counteract the persistent technology gender-divide, while still appealing to all children. To move through the levels in the fantasy game, players must build and fix solutions by altering the source code with professional coding language. It is designed for people ages eight and up and introduces HTML, CSS and JavaScript “with interactive dialogue and kitten gifs.”

Erase All Kittens hit its fundraising goal of £15,000 to develop the iPad version of the game by earning £21,508 (~$26,750) in 2017. Backers can expect to receive the game in the spring of 2018. The game is already being used worldwide and has also teamed up with MIT and game development studio Playerthree. The extra money raised will be used to run more tech workshops for girls in the Middle East, Saigal says.

Erase All Kittens joined forces with Techfugees and Syria-based company IT-Advice to offer a workshop to 60 girls in Homs, Syria in December 2017.

“I had never coded before playing Erase All Kittens. I expected it to be difficult, boring and complicated, but now it seems fun and easy. If coding was taught in this way, I’d like to learn more,” 14-year-old Sara Saa’d says.

Techfugees is a nonprofit group; a consortium of tech-minded individuals that “exists to empower the displaced with technology.” It organizes workshops, hackathons, meetups and conferences to connect designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, startups, nonprofits, refugee communities and others in an effort to create tech solutions that can serve and empower displaced communities. Techfugees currently has more than 15,000 members and its website states there has been “a huge desire amongst the tech community to get involved with this issue.”

Both Syrians who are within the country and who have left face challenges in acquiring safe and high-quality schooling for their children. Schools have at times been directly attacked during the armed conflict. The coding workshops provided by these groups most likely give these girls opportunities they are not currently offered in home or school settings. Additional Erase All Kittens workshops for Syrian girls are in the works for 2018.

Check out Erase All Kittens in the video below.

About the Author
  • Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech, conservation and the arts. She enjoys solutions journalism. Find more of her work at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.
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