BC Tech program gives opportunities and hope to neurodiverse students and their families

Filling high-demand tech positions with differently-abled workers delivers many social and economic benefits

BC Tech’s partnership with the C.O.D.E. Initiative, a Vancouver-based non-profit organization provides accessible and inclusive coding and STEM opportunities to neurodiverse individuals. “Traditional education systems often cannot provide the personalized support neurodiverse students require,” explains C.O.D.E. President and Co-Founder Bahar Moussavi. “The cost of educational services for these learners is high, while availability is low, putting these valuable services out of reach for many kids and families who could benefit from them.”

The social and economic costs of this inaccessibility are troubling . School drop-out rates are three times higher among the 300,000 Canadian children with learning disabilities than among those without learning disabilities. Unemployment rates, in turn, are 30 percent higher.

That’s why BC Tech’s “codewithCODE” bursary program is making a real difference. Launched in July of 2021 and renewed three months later after its popularity and impact surpassed expectations, codewithCODE has already broken down cost barriers for 106 neurodiverse students, aged six to 17, who would otherwise have been unable to access educational resources tailored to their success.

Chris, 14, is one such student. According to his mother, Marlene, Chris’s participation in three bursary-funded C.O.D.E. classes – Advanced Scratch, Beginner Python, and Intermediate Python – “has really helped to enrich his education, and will hopefully lead to a career down the road.”

Seeing Chris advance his coding skills over the course of 15 weeks “is amazing and inspiring for us,” says Marlele, who is unable to work owing to the care and therapy her son requires. “Chris works so well with the C.O.D.E. instructors, who are incredibly skilled and patient. Schools can be difficult environments for kids like Chris, but C.O.D.E.’s virtual sessions make the learning experience much more positive.”

Having recently returned to a hybrid model, C.O.D.E.’s learning structure combines one-on-one tutoring and group work that is both inclusive and uplifting for neurodiverse students, Bahar explains. “They move at their own pace as part of a curriculum that promotes experiential learning, social resilience and professional growth, and is tailored to each student’s unique interests.”

A ping-pong-themed lesson plan, for instance, sees students include characters, backgrounds and themes they are passionate about. Last semester, some students opted to have Super Mario Bros. characters bat balls around. Others created a Minecraft-themed competition. “In this way, we reach our curricular goals while keeping our students engaged,” Bahar says. “They learn all the way from the basics of coding to text-based languages like Python and Java, and are connected with an empowering community of volunteer tutors who act as mentors, and students who share interests ranging from Dungeons and Dragons to robotics.”

As part of BC Tech’s Rapid Skilling Program, which is focused on building a more diverse and inclusive tech sector, codewithCODE “is mutually beneficial to students and the tech ecosystem as a whole,” says BC Tech President and CEO Jill Tipping. “The demand for tech jobs in the province is only going to accelerate, and by filling these positions with differently-abled individuals everyone wins.”

Chris’ mother, for her part, is grateful that the bursary is brightening her son’s future. “I could not recommend the program more highly, and I sincerely hope it continues indefinitely. If it can work for a complex kid like Chris, it can work for anyone. On behalf of Chris and my husband, I’d like to thank BC Tech and C.O.D.E. for the opportunities, and the hope, you have given us.”