As I sit to write this article, I’m surrounded by four connected devices: Two laptops, a smartphone, and a tablet.
There are five more in the adjacent room and five upstairs. A total of 13 for four people.
Aside from basic functions like searching, and uploading we possess little ability to use them. Let alone a mild indication of how they work.
In fact, we’ve never even been compelled to look inside.
With eight billion connected devices in the world, it’s a shame we’re not openly invited to explore them.
The four of us aren’t coders. Why would we be?
Despite there being more connected devices than humans, 99.36 percent of us don’t know how to program them.
Perhaps it’s because we call it ‘coding.’ The word connotes an elitist mystique describing engineers who are perceived to be unnaturally gifted; Building software that makes Google faster and working on Tesla’s next autonomous driving update.
What about art, games, and songs? Where do these essential parts of our identities fit into the coding mix?
More importantly, how do we inspire the next generation to create, rather simply ‘code,’ what they love?
Simple. Meet Kano.
The two-year-old London-based startup sells two core products for children ages six and up: The Computer Kit and the recently introduced Screen Kit. Both enable children to code by themselves.
A core part of the team’s work are the storybook’s that accompany each kit.
“It’s about taking big ideas and boiling them down to simple, playful, physical computing experiences that anyone can make,” Alex shared.
Using a screen should come as easily as breathing.
You can see how the Computer Kit works in this video.
What you’ll notice is children’s excitement creating projects they are passionate about – Whether it be drawings, games, or songs.
“Computing is about invention,” Alex affirmed.
“Powering up your mind and giving you new ways to look at the world and express yourself.”
Children are also given access to Kano World where they can share their code and collaborate with other creators.
Since launching in 2013, over 9.5 million lines of code have been written for over 25,000 projects.
It’s a carnival for coded creativity.
While Kano’s product and it’s capabilities are a strong step forward, they can’t democratize programming on their own.
What we need, according to Alex, is a fundamental shift in our ideology and the way we present programming to children.
“Computing has become homogenous. Despite tools opening it up, the stories that explain them, emanating from Silicon Valley down, are too mystical.”
There is a fear based message that we have to become like Silicon Valley in order to survive in the future.
“The rhetoric today, is ‘Software and technology are eating the world. So humans you better fall in line.”
“It’s a bit like the matrix,” he said.
“We need participatory education.”
At an early age, before you can figure out who you want to be, you have to figure out what you like to do.
This is where we return to the need to define coding as creativity.
For children especially, “it should be as simple and fun as a game.”
“When we teach computer science it feels very top down, pre-vocational and structural,” Alex shared.
At Kano, the 44 person team is creating “an organic, bottom-up system for making and playing with technology.”
It should be as “addictive as an Angry Birds, as creative and generative as a palette of paint, and as simple and humane as the world of i-devices we’re immersed in every day.”
There shouldn’t be a tension between open and simple. We want to bring those two together.
Computing is something you do rather than just consume.
As you’ve seen, Kano is extremely easy to use, and kids are called to create and share projects they’re passionate about.
Take the 16-year-old boys in Sierra Leone, who made radio stations and batteries. And, the girls using old PC pieces to unveil the location of solar panels to capture light and turn it into energy.
We are in an incredible time in history where these kids may outpace us while they are still kids. We need to get out of their way.
Kano is equally dedicated to children who lack the resources to purchase their kits.
One percent of kits sold, employee time and equity are dedicated to “fostering this generation of bottom-up creators who have been excluded through economics, circumstances, or geography.”
The team’s provided 200 kits to refugees from the Syrian crisis, is building an innovation lab in Sierra Leone, and distributing kits around the world, from South Africa to South East Asia.
“The goal here is to give a simple, affordable set of tools to a curious young mind,” Alex said.
The most exciting part is seeing these kids connect with others through Kano World.
These are the inventors of tomorrow, not just the users.
Citing the world’s first programmer, Lady Ada Lovelace, Alex reflects on ‘coding’ as a poetical science.
It’s about taking the best parts of humanity and mechanizing them.
The Kano team is working to make this possible through creative play.
“The best way for any person, of any age, to learn something is to deeply feel it, rather than memorize it.”
“We want to turn technology into a force of creation and make the makers into stars.”