"We'll be all over Europe in two years".

Amanda Maiwald and Antonia Schein, winners of the Digital Female Leader Award in the Entrepreneurship category, explain in an interview how they want to teach children programming - and how more girls could be inspired to do so.

Amanda Maiwald and Antonia Schein didn't expect to receive the Digital Female Leader Award just one year after founding Codary. But the two founders of the Berlin start-up are ambitious, already thinking about expansion - and calling for computer science to be taught in primary school.

Even at the age of seven, children can learn programming via Codary. Aren't they still a little too young for that?

Amanda Maiwald: They are young, but not too young. They're already learning math and writing in school at that age. In our opinion, programming is just as important, and they should start early.

Antonia Schein: By the way, Chancellor Merkel said in 2016 that children should also learn programming in primary schools in the future, but nothing has happened since then.

Why should programming be given such high priority? Up to now, a large part of the population has managed very well without any knowledge of programming.

Maiwald: Computer science has been shaping our society for years. Many people use their smartphones every day without knowing how it really works. We teach children to read and write at an early age so that they can participate in society. We are convinced that if you don't gain skills in computer science, you will soon no longer be able to shape society.

Nevertheless, a large proportion of people manage without computer science skills. When in doubt, they look for someone to advise them, just as they look for a tax consultant.

Maiwald: But they basically understand how the tax system works. We are still a long way from that in IT. With Codary, we don't want to train everyone to be a full-stack developer. But basic knowledge is something we think everyone should develop - even if it's to help employees in marketing understand how the tech team works.

Codary's courses are aimed at up to 16-year-olds. How are they structured?

Schein: First of all, they're age-appropriate. Seven-year-olds in particular still learn their first skills in a very playful way. After all, they don't learn complicated mathematical formulas in elementary school. We do this, for example, using the game Minecraft, which is very popular among children. Here they learn how to build buildings and change the game world in a matter of seconds using the Python programming language. We teach Python much more intensively to older children, because it is a programming language that is very popular in a professional context.

Who teaches on your behalf?

Schein: Our coaches are all working students or undergraduates. They don't even necessarily have to study computer science; many have a background in science and education, so they study for a teaching degree or have been active as private tutors. We check their expertise in advance and also require an extended police clearance certificate, as sports clubs do for their coaches. Once a week, our coaches meet with the children digitally. They get the curriculum from us.

You founded Codary together with Nikolaj Bewer in November last year. How many children have already taken part in the courses?

Maiwald: We are currently at almost 800 children. New courses start every two weeks. We have ten coaches and, including us three founders, another ten people in the office in Berlin.

With your start-up, you also want to get girls interested in programming. What is the current quota for your courses?

Schein: As is typical for the field of computer science, we currently have a surplus of boys. We're probably at around 70 percent to 30 percent. But the trend is going in the right direction, more and more girls are registering with us. When parents register their sons with us, we are happy to ask them whether this might be something for their daughter. Of course, young girls need a slightly different approach to the subject, they place more value on creativity. But we also offer such courses.

How do you explain the fact that boys are more in demand for computer science at university?

Maiwald: I think that the natural sciences in Germany are often attributed to boys. In addition, there are clichés that girls can't do maths, let alone computer science. That's nonsense, of course. But once that's established in the minds of parents and teachers - even if it's only unconsciously - it also puts girls off.

How can this be changed?

Schein: Computer science must be taught in primary school in order to remove the inhibitions of girls at an early age!

Doesn't this demand make your own start-up superfluous?

Maiwald: No, there are also music lessons at school, and if you want to learn the guitar, you still go to music school. It's the same with computer science: school teaches the basics, we go into it in more depth.

Where do you see your start-up in two years?

Maiwald: In two years, we'll be relevant throughout Europe. We've succeeded in establishing programming as a cool hobby. Just like playing soccer or learning an instrument is for many children.

For a start-up founded only a year ago with currently ten coaches, that sounds very ambitious. How do you plan to achieve that?

Schein: We also didn't think we'd win the Digital Female Leader Award one year after founding. Everything is happening insanely fast and we still have so much to do: Not only in Germany, but in many European countries, computer science is getting a raw deal We want to change that! Since our business model is purely digital, we naturally hope to expand quickly in Europe. The first challenge will probably be to translate the curricula and our learning platform into the various national languages.

Thank you very much for the interview.

About the people: Antonia Schein first got involved with programming when she was at school. At that time, a retired physics teacher taught her the programming language Pascal. Schein found this rather off-putting at the time; in her opinion, it had nothing to do with good computer science lessons. Amanda Maiwald wanted to learn programming when she was still at school, but had a bad experience there too: She enrolled in computer science, but according to her, her lessons essentially consisted of typing out Word files. She didn't really pick up the subject again until her master's degree, when she studied business informatics - as one of the few women in her course.

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