Well, this is no longer an imagination or a dream for 10 year old Panashe Jere from Area 49 in Lilongwe, Malawi. It is reality. Panashe met Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook Headquarters, Menlo Park in California. Zuckerberg later posted on his Facebook page; a photo of him talking with Panashe captioned “This guy started coding earlier than I did.” Mark seemed to acknowledge that Panashe has started doing wonders in computer programming at a much early age than He, Zuckerberg. Panashe met Mark alongside the grand F8 conference organised by Facebook that brought together thousands of developers from across the world. Panashe got a ticket to travel from Lilongwe, Malawi to the Silicon Valley after winning a coding competition supported by Malawi’s mobile network operator TNM through its TNM Smart Challenge Competition. TNM sponsored coding workshops, prizes in the form of smart phones for all finalists and a trip to the Silicon Valley for all winners. The winners visit Facebook, Google and Stanford University among other high tech institutions.
Panashe developed a mobile application that allows children to input text and then converts it to voice so children always have someone to talk to; as he describes it.
It wasn’t just Panashe who got to shine at the F8 conference; three other young Malawians; Daniel Mvalo, Thandie Magasa and Walter Moyo were at it as they got recognition from Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook Chief Operations Officer; Sheryl Sandberg. The three developed a mobile application called Maternitech. The mobile application provides information on maternal health and family planning.
But, where is this technology revolution in Malawi starting from? The place is called mHub. It is Malawi’s first technology hub. The hub runs a Children’s Coding Club, where Panashe had his first and eight other lessons on how to develop computer programs that could even run on the cell phone and do amazing things like converting text into voice. The club has so far trained over 30 children aged between 8 and 16. The hub also runs the Girls coding club where girls are taught basics of computer science and how to develop technology applications. The tools that these children and girls are taught on include high tech platforms such as Scratch and Google’s MIT App Inventor. Scratch is a special developing platform developed by MIT and Google to teach Children block programming using drag and drop.
The hub also trains young entrepreneurs on basics of entrepreneurship. And serves as an incubator and co working space for emerging technology start-ups.
mHub was founded by a young female technology enthusiast; Rachel Sibande. Hers is a story of focus and determination against the odds. She is a Google Award Winner and has been recently named one of Africa’s Next Einstein’s by the Next Einstein’s Fellows Initiative.
It appears that Malawi is right on to a good start on this global technology revolution. Earlier in the year; President Obama launched the multibillion Computer Science for all program in the USA. Through the initiative; American Children will also start to learn basics of computer Science early on in school intimating the fundamental need for incorporating computer science as a cross cutting subject.
It is inevitable that technology is fast becoming a key stimulant and enabler for economic growth and development. Careers in technology are becoming more lucrative. And Malawi seems to be taking good steps so far if these success stories are anything to go by. However, the need for private sector entities such as TNM; mHub, Government and the Academia to enhance sustainability of such phenomenal talent is absolutely necessary and can only be emphasised.