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Google volunteers, STEM SVG team up with kids to make music

Google volunteers, STEM SVG team up with kids to make music
Petrus Gumbs, the founder and director of STEM SVG

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A GROUP of young Vincentian minds were recently given an opportunity to produce music using a high-level programming language, Python, when they participated in the first ever hackathon to take place in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).

A hackathon is an event where large groups of people engage in collaborative programming language.

This event, which took place on September 25, was facilitated by STEM SVG and breakbeatcode, which is a 20% time project at Google. The programme is supported by volunteers within Google and in the broader tech and music industries.

“I thought it was interesting; the fact we get to create music in unconventional ways like using programming,” 12-year-old Kai Francis told SEARCHLIGHT about his experience at the hackathon.

Francis said he dabbled with a bit of programming with Python and other programming languages prior to the event.

While Python was used at the event to produce music, it can also be used in several different ways, like in creating games or social networks.

With his new knowledge, Francis said he would like to try creating things that will help or entertain people in some way.

The St Vincent Grammar school student also believes that being exposed to programming at a young age helps persons to develop problem solving skills.

“…It also just kind of helps you to learn how to do research on your own because when it comes to programming, sometimes you have to look up a lot of references and tutorials to help you out,” he said.

Ajani Neverson, another participant of the hackathon told SEARCHLIGHT that he felt privileged to have been able to attend the event, particularly since it was the first time something of that nature had ever happened in SVG.

“It was very fun, and for me personally, I didn’t think it was long enough. I actually wanted it to continue…” the youngster said.

Neverson, who is also a student at the St Vincent Grammar School, explained that once his interest was sparked during a programme leading up to the hackathon, he began doing research on Python.

As someone who enjoys creating Roblox games in his spare time, he expressed an interest in using the high level programming language to perhaps create games in the future.

The breakbeatcode hackathon rounded out a five-week programme that was held by STEM SVG in collaboration with the Internet Society of St Vincent and the Grenadines (ISOC SVG) to give 80 children between 8 and 13 years old a soft introduction to programming language.

The programme was executed virtually.

Of the 80 participants, 65 participated in the hackathon.

Both Francis and Neverson started off in the five-week programme as students, but were able to coach individual groups during the two-day hackathon event to produce beats.

“ I know we have quite a bit of talent here in the creative industry, and I also know that we have a need in development and initiative industries, where students need to think outside of the box. The whole breakbeatcode session was set out to be a problem solving initiative where students can understand what is happening, see the issue and be able to resolve it, but we did it through coding and married it with the music industry factors that are here,” Petrus Gumbs, the founder and director of STEM SVG said.

At the opening session of the hackathon, a panel of volunteers from the music industry, including pannist and cultural ambassador, Rodney Small; producer and engineer, Alex ‘Kubiyashi’ Barnwell; soca artiste and cultural ambassador Oronde ‘Bomani’ Charles; principal of a New York school, Marisa Castello and manager for Trinidadian soca songstress, Nailah Blackman, Anson Soverall, shared their experiences with the industry and gave valuable advice to participants.

Gumbs noted that with the guidance of the volunteers from Google, students were able to grasp how easy it was to create a simple beat using code, and some were even able to create beats from scratch, using what they had learned.

He added that parents, as well as persons in other Caribbean countries have expressed the need to have more programmes like this in the future.

Felicia Neverson, Ajani’s mother, said that there are many benefits to programmes that expose children to various aspects of information technology.

“…This is the direction in which the world is heading. It’s critical for us not to be left behind. We need to see that there are alternative means of creating employment…,” she said.

The parent added that “with exposure to programmes and software development, the children begin to create applications that can be used globally and this particular programme really gave them the confidence to test programming codes and not be afraid to fail if they are testing something”.

She commended the five-week programme, which led up to the hackathon for being “a strict learning environment, but one which was fun, so it gave them confidence to know that they wouldn’t be made fun of and at the same time, allowed them to test ideas and see what what works and doesn’t work”.

Gumbs, STEM SVG’s director said plans are underway to host another event, perhaps in February 2022, not only for Vincentians, but with persons in other Caribbean islands as well.

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