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Programming Training for Refugees

29 April 2021
- by Gabriel Lopez, Data Scientist, VodafoneZiggo

In August 2020, VodafoneZiggo and Accenture wrapped up their three-month CodeMasters training programme for refugees. The training course was tailor-made to help refugees integrate in the Dutch labour market by teaching participants to write computer code.

After the humanitarian crisis in Syria in 2019, thousands of refugees arrived in the Netherlands fleeing from the war in their home countries. To aid those suffering from this humanitarian crisis, and in an effort to create positive social impact, VodafoneZiggo joined forces with Accenture in June 2020 to provide free training for refugees.

How to teach Python in three months

A group of volunteers from VodafoneZiggo provided their time and experience as teachers for an initial group of refugees. The classes started in June and continued until the end of August. The objective was to teach the basics of the Python programming language.

Prerequisites

All participants required a minimum of an HBO (university of applied sciences) education level so they would be able to follow the educational material. Their backgrounds were rather diverse, including mathematics, music, and engineering. The participants were also required to speak English, as it was the language of the course and training material.

Changing the teaching approach

A reverse classroom teaching model was used in which the students read online educational material and completed online exercises before the class. This way, the valuable classroom time was used to answer questions from the students, to explain difficult exercises or to showcase real-life applications of the programming language. We had two classes per week for a period of three months. Each class was guided by two tutors.

The curriculum started with explaining the basics structures in Python (like variables, lists and dictionaries) and continued to more complex concepts (like control flow, numerical packages, etc.). As the course progressed the students devoted to increasingly more challenging assignments to test their knowledge.

The training material for the course is freely available online via Codecademy.

From novice to master

At the end of the course the students were required to work on a final project. The goal of the project was to put all the techniques learned during the course into practice. Each student picked their own project, according to their own imagination/interest, for example: Tic-tac-toe (noughts and crosses), Blackjack, text-based ATM.

We started with a group of 27 students, of which 21 attended the graduation ceremony. This is because some of the attendees found out that they couldn’t really commit to the class sessions and some found a job during the course. At least two of the students found employment after completing the training programme.

An awards ceremony was held at the end of the training programme during which all the students received the title “Python Superstar”. We took a group picture together, with our “learning-hats on”!

Celebration after the graduation (with a smaller group)

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A firsthand volunteer’s experience

As one of the volunteers, I was overwhelmed by the positive vibe and the motivation of both mentors and students. We started each training session with a fun online game in the style of a pub quiz on the materials the students had been asked to study. The winners received a virtual gold medal and their names were displayed on a pedestal!

Afterwards, we explained the correct answers to the pub quiz questions and asked some open questions to encourage more interaction and to explain the theory fundamentals. We ended the class only after the topics were properly understood by all.

Personally, I felt very happy to be able to provide help to people in need and to be able to help integrate them into Dutch society. I was really pleased to see that many of the students excelled in the course and presented brilliant final projects. It makes me feel proud that we were able to help the students achieve something significant/relevant for their careers and experience working culture in the Netherlands! Helping them to up-skill professionally helps both our economy and society in addition to providing a pleasant experience and a space for cultural integration.

The future

We look forward to the continued collaboration between VodafoneZiggo and Accenture to deliver more training programmes and support those in need, independent of their culture, gender, religion or ethnicity. The next course is scheduled for Spring/Summer 2021, more information will be soon available in the TalentHub portal.

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