Interfaith Girls Coding Class Teaches Students The Common Language Of Computers

"When we share the same values, we all speak the same language -- whether that’s English or Java."
The students pose for a photo after their session at Twitter.
The students pose for a photo after their session at Twitter.

An interfaith, girls coding class in London brings Muslim, Jewish and Christian students together to learn the common language of computer programming.

Sponsored by Near Neighbours, an interfaith wing of the Church Urban Fund, and funded by a grant from Department for Communities and Local Government, the coding class aims to expose students to faiths and cultures they may have previously had little contact with. 

Twenty-six girls, ages 12 and 13, were enrolled in the inaugural eight-week after-school class that ran from April 29 to June 17. The program aimed to equip the students with coding skills in Python, CSS and JavaScript. The girls came from different faith backgrounds and were enrolled at one of three schools: London’s Ayesha Muslim School, Maria Fidelis Catholic School and the Yavneh College Jewish School.

Students were chosen by their school based on their IT skills, willingness to take on extra-credit and interest in engaging with people of other faiths, project founder Rabbi Natan Levy told The Huffington Post. Levy enlisted the help of Hannah Waxman, a local engineer at software company ThoughtWorks, to design and teach the class. The rabbi said he hopes to continue the course in the fall.

“Computer coding felt like such an obvious focal point for this project, not least because it is an emerging field, but even more so because in this currently fractured world it holds promise as a shared language,” Levy said.

Just 11.2 percent of technology leadership jobs in Europe are held by women, according to a report by Gartner called the "2014 CIO Agenda: A Perspective on the Priorities of Women and Men." The percentage of women holding positions as chief information officers for technology companies has remained static at just 14 percent since 2004.

The class promotes the female students' interests in computer programming, while also addressing the need for interfaith dialogue amidst growing religious tension and hate crimes in the UK.

Both anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim attacks have increased in the UK in recent years, and the organizers of the coding course hope that religious tolerance and understanding among the Jewish, Muslim and Christian students will by a welcome byproduct of the class.

“[The class] allows these girls to break down barriers in their local communities and show that when we share the same values, we all speak the same language -- whether that’s English or Java,” wrote UK government minister Baroness Williams of Trafford.

Each class session ended with a joint meal, during which discussions among the students ranged from fasting during Ramadan and what happens during communion, according to Near Neighbour’s communications officer Tim Burton-Jones.

The class culminated on June 17 with a trip to Twitter’s UK headquarters where the students had a chance to meet with women employed at the social media company.

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