How SA ed-tech startup Mindjoy is making coding more accessible for kids

Cape Town-based ed-tech startup Mindjoy aims to make coding skills accessible for kids – and grownups – on any internet-enabled device.

Founded by Gabi Immelman in July 2021, Mindjoy is tackling one of the sector’s most pervasive challenges – the lack of digital skills development.

Making use of Replit, a browser-based development environment that doesn’t require specific hardware or software, Mindjoy provides live, small-group, virtual coding classes to kids aged eight or above.

The aim is that they have “hard fun” by learning to code in real programming languages ​​through hands-on projects. The sessions are facilitated by vetted and trained coaches, who are tasked with encouraging curiosity and supporting rigorous analytical thinking.

Currently operational across Africa and Europe, Mindjoy’s mission is to develop kids’ critical skills while they learn to express themselves using technology. Coaching sessions run online, meaning the platform is accessible from anywhere in the world, with kids from as far afield as the United Kingdom (UK), Hungary, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Spain joining sessions.

“The Mindjoy platform is built to create dynamic groups for optimal peer-learning so kids can connect, code and create together. This approach ensures that kids have a learning experience that is joyful, inspiring and collaborative,” Immelman said.

Mindjoy first began with a closed beta, working alongside smaller groups of kids to develop and refine the coaching mode, with support from the OfferZen Community. Mindjoy’s data-driven approach was applied even at its inception, to iterate for and understand exactly what makes for an engaging and kid-friendly coding environment.

“Working in Silicon Valley gave me the opportunity to see what the future of education might look like – children learning asynchronously as digital natives in blended environments. But more than that, children and grownups alike participated in learning communities. They value learning as something you do, not something done to you. It is this insight that makes Mindjoy’s approach to learning unique,” ​​said Immelman.

“The most noteworthy difference was the kids’ orientation to learning – they enjoyed learning. They were active participants, their minds engaged. Learning was not something that happened to them – it was something they did for themselves and experienced the joy of learning with others. I realised how this helps kids develop a positive relationship to learning. Mindjoy aims to create learning environments that kids enjoy and are motivated to participate in by making it a delightful experience while building critical skills.”

Mindjoy aims to create an environment that is not person-dependent, where kids can learn these skills in a scalable way.

“Since we can’t scale developers, Mindjoy is building a scalable system that is focused on peer-to-peer learning. The goal is not only to play a part in closing the widening digital skills gap, but also to provide kids with learning experiences that are joyful, inspiring and collaborative,” said Immelman.

Mindjoy is backed by FireID, a venture builder, and is now gradually opening up from its closed beta. More countries are being added weekly to its user base, and Immelman says there are no geographical boundaries to Mindjoy’s markets.

“However, the focus is on countries in the EMEA time zones,” she said.

Immelman said Mindjoy had deliberately focused on getting unit economics right from the get-go.

“Small group classes – compared to one-on-one tutoring – allow for a better contribution margin. We started off running a closed beta offering with a small subset of users to test our core – coaching model, plus small groups, plus coding in a mastery-based system,” she said. “We’re now opening up to grow Mindjoy by connecting the right kids, the right projects and the right coaches for optimal learning experiences that have kids fall in love with coding.”

The company is now working on growth, with the goal of eventually connecting millions of kids all over South Africa, Africa and Europe.

“In the next decade, programming will form part of most jobs in some shape or form. This means that millions more programming jobs will exist faster than traditional universities can train computer scientists,” Immelman said. “That being said, the incredibly empowering thing about programming is that you don’t need to go to university to become skilled in programming. There are a ton of resources and communities to connect to online and it’s one of the skills one learns best by doing.”

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