My impressions of the I2CAP northern regionalsPosted: July 11, 2007
For those of you unfamiliar with I2CAP, it is a secondary school level programming competition. We train the teachers who go back and train the students. Then we have regional competitions and finally the nationals. At the moment their tutors are taught in the Ruby programming language. Prior links here and here
This competition was held on Saturday in Tamale, the capital of the Northern Region. That’s about 400 odd miles from Accra, where I work. Now owing to nature of Ghana’s road networks that is about a 12+ hour drive. Hence, since we have private sponsors with somewhat deep pockets and that drive is supremely uncomfortable, we flew on Friday afternoon.
Unfortunately for us we got a pilot who has probably seen “Top Gun” a few too many times and insisted on flying the plane in ways I am fairly sure small commercial aircraft are not meant to be flown. The only thing holding back my irritation at that were the 10 or so missionaries from Ohio on the plane presumably here to show my predominantly Muslim northern brethren the error of their ways and bring them to the light. Or,more likely judging by their inability to shut up at any point in a 1 hour flight, talk them all to death.
Once we actually landed though, things got better. We all checked into our hotel and then went off to the Tamale Islamic Secondary school to look at their lab and set things up for the competition. Luckily for us they have a well equipped lab with about 35-40 working machines and a great computer teacher. It was also very obvious during the setup process that they had been practising hard for the competition. There wasn’t a machine I saw without a lot of Ruby code on it.
After setup we checked in on the students from the other regions(the northern regions are relatively large and have fairly crappy roads, meaning that most of the schools from the Upper East and Upper West regions came in a day early and stayed overnight in a hostel, all at our sponsors expense) and then went back to the hotel, got some food and then dispersed. I went to bed early, though what I really should have done was go out and see Tamale at night. Its a very different kind of city from Accra. With a surprising number of expats doing NGO work too.
Competition day: We woke up, rolled down to the school and discovered that the electricity corporation had been nice enough to turn off the power of the entire region. Hence, we had to go looking for a generator. The first one we found was powerful enough to handle the 22 computers we needed working, but not their CRT’s. Hence, we went looking for a bigger one.
While all this was going on, a co-worker brilliantly kept the kids entertained with riddles and brain teasers. Interestingly enough the two schools who answered most of the questions were the same two who won for the Upper East and Upper West Regions.
Finally we got every machine powered using two generators and got the competition going. 3 hours of kids solving problems in Ruby and us going around helping out as much as we could.
Then we got to judge their work. Generally the teams that did the best also tended to be the teams who had practiced the hardest and had the most elegantly written code. Some of it was seriously impressive considering how little training their teachers got
As usual, this was fun and refreshing. The schools need more support than they currently get from the government by far but they are doing a lot with what they have and I suspect the nationals will be seriously competitive. Still, I’d rather not have to hear stories of high performing schools only doing well because a teacher brought in his 3 year old laptop and trained his kids on it.
Still, the sights made me happy.