Spotlight on an alumna: Clementine Brown
Clementine learnt to code while working as a data analyst at the UN. Before coding languages, she studied modern languages - French, Spanish, Russian and Italian - at Royal High School Bath, before going on to read Arabic and Persian at Oxford University.
Spotlight on alumna: Clementine Brown talks social change through coding skills in Lebanon
Alumna Clementine Brown (RHS 2008) has lived in Lebanon for six years. In 2018 whilst working at the UN, she co-founded CodeBrave to help former street children escape a life of poverty and exploitation by teaching them marketable coding skills. She now directs the organization full-time.
Can you tell us about the history of CodeBrave? When was it created and what motivated you to do so?
In 2017 a boy at the shelter where my friend Steven and I were volunteering asked if we could teach him Python, a major computer programming language. The boy, Khalil, lived in a shelter for homeless children in Lebanon. This shelter houses some of Lebanon’s most vulnerable young people - many have lived on the street, around half are refugees, and most had little-to-no education prior to arrival. It was difficult to imagine a positive future for these children, and often, after leaving the shelter aged 18, they would end up back on the street, turning to crime or sex work to survive.
Khalil’s question got me and Steven thinking: coding skills could give these young people opportunities in a sector where there is known to be a skills-gap in the Middle East. We started running coding and robotics classes in the shelter, and the students loved it.
So in January 2018, we set up CodeBrave so youth from disadvantaged backgrounds could develop their tech skills. We have since included nearly 300 students in our programme - including Khalil. My co-founder Steven’s background is in Educational Psychology, so all our teachers are thoroughly trained in our trauma-adjusted teaching methodology enabling them to help students achieve their full potential.
How has your education at Royal High School influenced your CodeBrave journey?
Royal High had a big focus on languages, allowing me to take four languages for GCSE, one of which was after-school Russian. At 17, I joined an all-female Arabic class at Bath’s local mosque and adored it. I went on to study Arabic and Persian at Oxford, which in turn led me to Lebanon.
This familiarity with multiple languages gave me an ability to map out grammatical patterns in my head and pick up new languages. This was useful in my Oxford interview, which involved deciphering a made-up language based on a few clues, testing candidates’ ability to see patterns and replicate them. In this way, language is much more like Maths (and computer coding) than people realize.
When you learn to code, you are learning to give a computer instructions, telling it what to do in a language that it understands. Coders have to understand several languages to be employable, especially since the tech scene is moving so fast. It’s important for learners to understand how to learn a programming language, rather than learn any one specific language. Likewise, when you learn modern languages, the more you learn, the easier each one becomes.
Why is learning to code so important?
Expanding your options: Tech surrounds us. Centuries ago, those who could read and write were in power. Today, coding is the new literacy. Children who are tech-savvy will be better prepared to become leaders in virtually any sphere, whether entertainment, manufacturing or agriculture - everything involves technology these days.
Developing cognitive abilities: Young people learning to think logically via coding exercises is helpful to their development in so many ways. It teaches them to solve problems creatively, think critically, and reason systematically. In the age of information, these are the skills young people need for a successful career, not the ability to memorize information. As Steve Jobs famously said, “Everyone should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.”
Understanding the world around us: I believe everyone should also have an understanding of how the technologies and algorithms that increasingly control our lives and minds function. If we don’t, we risk not sufficiently challenging the tech giants about their activities, or not involving diverse voices in decisions around technology, which affect everyone.
How can girls be encouraged to pursue STE(A)M (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths) subjects?
I’ve seen from our work at CodeBrave that STE(A)M has something for everyone, whether you love working with your hands-on electronics, designing elegant websites, or the satisfaction of writing a logical script. We love getting students to work in teams on big projects where each takes on a different role: programming, design, gathering feedback, robotics components.
Getting girls more engaged in STE(A)M subjects will not only bring them personal joy and satisfaction, it is also critical for the sector’s future. There are few places where diversity is so important as in tech. We’ve heard about coders hardwiring their own, often subconscious, biases into algorithms, or not picking up on the fact a dataset used to train an AI is biased: Amazon’s use of AI to help screen job applicants (using past hiring success data) resulted in a lower score for female candidates who attended all-women universities. Empowering women in tech and AI will unravel harmful gender stereotypes that have been programmed into these technologies.
Yet the number of women in STEM has decreased since the 90s according to Accenture’s research, and if we do not reverse this trend, the number of female computer scientists will fall from 24% to 22% by 2025.
At CodeBrave, 50% of our students are young girls and our teaching staff is 50% female. Two of the nine centres where we currently work are all-girls schools for refugees girls living in camps. Our female students have made inspiring projects, like 15-year old Ghofran who learned how to build websites with CodeBrave in a 3-month course and recently completed her first commission for her neighbour!
What are you looking to achieve through this initiative?
CodeBrave aims to create lasting social change in Lebanon through tech education. We provide coding and robotics classes to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in eight centres across Lebanon.
Our programme aims to give them the skills, motivation, and confidence to secure decent work, whether in the tech sector or elsewhere. Our programme has two levels: a foundational digital and coding programme for all students, and a more advanced vocational training programme for those motivated to pursue it, including work experience simulations, mentorship and financial assistance to undertake internships.
An example of one of our students is Joseph, who came from extremely difficult circumstances before being placed in a shelter at 8. He started coding with CodeBrave at 15. By 17, he had completed an internship at Beirut tech company Cherpa and a Python bootcamps for adults (many of which were university graduates). He is now completing his secondary education while hoping to pursue a career in tech.
By the end of 2024, we plan on reaching 1,000 children.
How is CodeBrave funded?
CodeBrave is currently operating thanks to donations from individuals and corporate partners all over the world.
In order to become more sustainable, this year we launched CodeBrave Tutors, a private coding and robotics tutoring service where every session purchased funds a session for a child in Lebanon. Combing high-quality tech education with social impact, CodeBrave Tutors provides individual or group online coding and robotics tutorials to talented children around the world who want to learn the languages of the future. So far, we have delivered more than 500 sessions to children across four continents. Our main client base is the UK and children aged 5 to 17 can do a trial session for free: to book visit http://bit.ly/CBTBookTrial
Digital literacy is essential for young people to participate and thrive in the 21st century and we believe there should never be a barrier to education. Let’s create change and allow all children to become inventors of the extraordinary.
Visit https://codebrave.org/#donate to donate to CodeBrave, and help young people like Khalil and Joseph write the script of their tomorrow.