Project Ada: Coding classes for ex-inmates - The Patatas

Project Ada was one of The Patatas' first few projects, kickstarting their journey in providing education opportunities.

Project Ada: Coding classes for ex-inmates - The Patatas

The Patatas, a Potato Productions company, works to create learning bridges for underrepresented South East Asia communities through partnership and innovation.

Their main product - Case Study, currently used in countries such as the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Batam, Mombasa and South Sudan  - is a cost effective digital solution that is designed to allow classes to be conducted even in unfavourable conditions.

The Patatas is now a 7 men team, with clients from all around the world such as Kenya, Philippines, South Sudan. Project Ada, named after Ada Lovelace - who was known as the first computer programmer, was one of the first projects they took on in their early days when they were still finding their direction in the education sector.

It all started with a strong passion in education

When the Industrial and Services Co-operative Society Limited (ISCOS) approached Hans, our Potato Productions founder, to propose this project idea of teaching coding skills to ex-inmates, it was well-aligned with his beliefs.

He has always gravitated towards providing education opportunities for those who have been neglected. It stems from his belief that everyone should have a level playing field. This has driven him to provide education for the underprivileged for years, and served as a compelling reason to hop onto this project.

Janan, the COO of The Patatas, also saw this as a good opportunity to give back to the community.

With that, the partnership was well underway.

Helping ex-inmates achieve financial capability

The idea for this project was born out of the desire to help those who had dropped between the cracks or shunned by society. As there is an unfortunate stigma towards ex-offenders, it goes without saying that they usually find it an immense challenge to gain employment.

For this project, The Patatas and ISCOS had a simple goal in mind: To help ex-inmates become financially independent, by equipping them with the skills to find jobs in coding or app development, which was a booming sector at that point in time.

Through the partnership, they organised coding classes on app development for ex-inmates who had been released for around 1 to 3 months.

The classes ran for 8 weeks at our old office which was located at 298 River Valley Road.

The trainers were selected  by one of The Patatas’ partners. Beside proficient coding skills, it was important for them to possess the same mindset of wanting to give back to the community. As members of the classes were ex-offenders, it was also crucial that the trainers didn’t harbour any prejudice towards them and treated them with respect.

The results? It was a drop in a bucket.

While the members were given the opportunity to learn basic coding skills, it was not enough for them to join the coding industry. Their current jobs were not in the coding industry and it didn’t give them the chance to practice their new coding skills.

Another factor for them was that their being recently released between a span of one to three months prior, they had not much savings and being financially stable was their highest priority. Thus, as much as they were interested in coding, it was not something high on their list of priorities and simply remained as an interest for them.

If they could do it again, what would they have changed?

Instead of doing a one-off coding course, do it in a place-and-train format. Whereby they have a chance to get hands-on experience to practise their crafts at a workplace, and have the possibility of securing a job relevant to the skills they have picked up.

Learning lessons that laid the foundation for their future work

Did the project have a far reaching impact as they hoped? Probably not. It would have been understandable or even easy to sweep such projects under the rug, but in The Patatas’ 7-year long journey since their inception, each project had its own teaching lesson in helping them get to where they are today.

Giving them what they need vs giving them what you think they need

This particular project was simple, yet fitting as one of their first few projects to catch a glimpse of what it's like to work with different communities.

We often make assumptions on what the other party needs, but that may not be what they really need. Realising that a place-and-train programme would have been better was a learning point to speak to the community beforehand and understand things from their perspective.

Communicate and build trust

Empathy starts with communication. This project taught them to communicate with various organisations and understand how they operate, and build trust with a group of marginalised communities despite coming from different backgrounds.

All these laid the foundation to the way they approach their work of helping underprivileged communities since then.

The Patatas’ work has always involved going down to communities on the ground. Using what they have learnt previously, they were able to find out the communities’ pain points. And based on their findings, they eventually formulated their main offering, Case Study, a few years later.

If you are interested in reaching out to The Patatas, click here.