Microsoft is leading a campaign this week to encourage more Australian students to take up computer coding.
The company is helping more than 7000 students learn code as part of YouthSpark #WeSpeakCode week, inspired by the international movement Code.org.
Coding is the set of commands required to develop computer software, websites and apps and underpins almost every aspect of modern technology.
The week long campaign will see students from all over Australia get a taste of what coding is with the help of volunteers and teachers who will be showcasing coding through school and community events, tutorials and online activities.
Today, more than 800 students from more than 30 local schools in Sydney will learn to code at the main #WeSpeakCode event being held in the Great Hall of the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).
Microsoft Australia managing director, Pip Marlow, said coding was the key to change.
“Through the use of code, computer programmers are working on amazing and innovative new ideas, using technology to improve the way we live, consume and interact with people from around the world," she said.
“Microsoft’s YouthSpark #WeSpeakCode week is really shining a light on the power and possibilities of coding for thousands of young Australians who are increasingly discovering how rewarding it can be.”
The #WeSpeakCode event is being held in partnership with The Smith Family, UTS, the Australian Business and Community Network (ABCN) and the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, NSW.
The partnership effort has allowed coding events to be showcased in more than 130 schools nationally during the #WeSpeakCode week, with a particular focus on helping students from disadvantaged schools.
Microsoft has also established a number of key initiatives including the Imagine Cup global tournament, to inspire young people to develop innovative solutions to problems using coding and new technologies.
Two Australian teams that entered the 2015 Imagine Cup tournament have made it into the world finals.
The first is Team Opaque Multimedia. They are the Australian finalists for the 2015 Imagine Cup’s World Citizenship division.
They partnered with Alzheimer’s Australia to develop a Virtual Dementia Experience.
It is used with training programs to allow caretakers and family carers to experience first-hand what life is like for a dementia sufferer through cutting edge virtual reality.
The second finalist is Team Speakerboxx.
They are the Australian finalists for the 2015 Imagine Cup’s Innovation division.
SpeakerBoxx is a social companion app for mobile that combines a student’s community support group with the benefits of thought verbalisation.
Students can use the app to record a private diary, send anonymous messages to a teacher or school counsellor, or simply chat with friends at school.
Its most innovative feature is its Cloud-based analysis of user recordings, which picks up key words and patterns of a negative or extreme nature, providing immediate support via links to mental health support services or suggesting management techniques in a friendly, relatable manner.
Marlow said it was great to see young Australians get the recognition they deserved through the Imagine Cup.
“Computer science and programming skills can really supercharge careers no matter what you want to do," she said.
"That’s why Microsoft is helping young people get access to the education and skills they need for a great career future.”
New Microsoft research found Australian students were well behind their counterparts in the Asia Pacific region when it comes to coding training and uptake.
The Microsoft Asia Pacific study found students generally felt relatively unsupported in their interest for coding, signaling an urgent need for educators to look deeper at integrating it as a core subject in the school curriculum.
Only 32 percent of students in Australia said they have an opportunity to learn coding in school, whether as a core subject or an extracurricular activity, marking the lowest figure in all countries surveyed.
Nearly two-thirds of Australian students surveyed said they wanted to know more about coding, but didn’t have the opportunities to gain the computer skills they needed.
Marlow said there was a problem in Australia around the uptake of coding amongst the country's young people which needed to be addressed now.
"Otherwise students could miss out on huge career opportunities,” she said.
“It is important for educators to move on from asking whether or not to offer coding as a subject – but how it can be integrated into the curriculum as soon as possible."
Smith Family chief executive, Lisa O'Brien, said, with the current high youth unemployment rate, it was important to ensure more Australian students, especially those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, had access to the right kind of training so they could develop key skills to successfully attain employment.
“Today’s event showcases the importance of ensuring a more digitally literate student population," she said.
"This is particularly important for students who are less likely to have this kind of access to technology and training than their more affluent peers.
“Learning about coding is one way to help young Australians onto the path to success as it gives them the skills they need for tomorrow’s high-tech global workforce."