International Catrobat Association

  • Information and Communications

  • Global Programs

  • Economically disadvantaged people

  • Non-governmental organization

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Executive Summary

Catrobat is committed to eradicating the lack of coding skills among teenagers and young adults in an economically feasible, self sustaining, significant, and long lasting way, everywhere around the globe, including developing countries. We are convinced that widespread computational thinking skills, as have been the basis of the rise of tech giants such as Google or Facebook, can propel humanity forward in a unprecedented way, at the same time resolving poverty, inequality, unrest, and perceived lack of purpose in life, with all problems ensuing from these. Our solution is unique because it solely relies on the smartphones already now owned by billions of young people around the globe, as well as on our multilingual free apps and integrated tutorials. We can give everyone with what they already have in their hands the skills to realize their own ideas and express themselves creatively, thus fulfilling humanity's common dreams for a better future, together.

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The Problem

The lack of computational thinking skills among teenagers and young adults, which Catrobat is committed to upturn, results in stalled innovation, hampers employability, limits their fundamental understanding of technology and rational thought, and has a depressing impact on overall worldwide economies. But there are seemingly insurmountable hurdles to providing these skills: Poverty, lack of resources for the majority of the world having the wrong gender. Yet, at the same time, there is a tremendous worldwide shortage of programmers. Current resources that address this conflict concentrate on the wealthier members of the world's population, leaving behind those who are less privileged, thus exacerbating the widening gap between rich and poor, with all problems that ensue, from social unrest, lack of positive perspectives on life, up to wars and terror. Previous approaches, e.g., the One Laptop Per Child project, suffered from a lack of infrastructure, high costs, an ineffective focus on younger kids, rapid obsolescence of the provided hardware, and thus, despite enormous efforts and costs, had little to no long term effects. Existing efforts such as MIT's Scratch project or the initiative cannot reach those members of the world's population who do not have access to the necessary hardware PCs, laptops, or tablets. Unfortunately, this currently includes, and most likely also will include for the foreseeable future, the majority of teenagers and young adults of the world. But even in more affluent societies, these initiatives are limited by a lack of resources that schools or families can effectively provide.

Proposed Solution

Catrobat develops a set of creativity tools that allow to visually program games, animations, interactive stories, and any other kind of app, directly on all popular smartphones. Catrobat is a sister project of the successful Scratch project for PCs. Compared to Scratch, Catrobat allows to access the phone's sensors, e.g., inclination or geolocation, its multitouch high resolution screen, and to take advantage of its portability. Catrobat offers the same possibilities as any modern programming language, has built in computer vision and human language processing capabilities, and allows to tinker with external hardware such as low cost Arduino or Raspberry Pi boards. Because no PC or tablet is needed, and because it allows learning to code in a simple, intuitive, self guided, fun, and engaging way, Catrobat is ideally poised to make meaningful progress toward resolving the lack of computational thinking skills among teenagers and young adults all over the world. Since Catrobat is a free and open source nonprofit project run by volunteers, once its tipping point has been reached, its development and sustained adoption on a worldwide scale will be ensured forever. We chose our solution because we identified the crucial problem of a lack of computational thinking skills due to our research background, analyzed the reasons for the failures of other approaches, and early on recognized the potential of using smartphones. The best argument for Catrobat is its sole reliance on infrastructure that to an increasing degree is owned (low cost smartphones) and being developed (internet) in all areas of the world.

Evidence of Effectiveness

The success of the visual programming online framework Scratch developed by the MIT Media Lab and the coding initiative carried out by the platform already proved that there is a rising demand of programming tools for kids. However, most of these tools are currently designed as online tool or for traditional PCs. Our previous work and research in different countries around the world have shown the importance of cheap and mobile solutions that do not require additional hardware and a complex infrastructure. Furthermore, the observed rising number of teenagers and young adults having their own smartphones, backs our idea of a mobile, visual framework for these user groups. In particular, the fact that many teenagers, even in poor environments, have already now access to smartphones, fosters our idea by providing the corresponding infrastructure needed for our services. Additionally, the public research that has been done by the Horizon2020 project No One Left Behind confirms that gamification of coding on mobile devices works well. Especially disadvantaged groups of teenagers and educational institution can profit from our approach, as different test runs with such user groups have shown. The rising number of coding initiatives and gaming for kids events, as organized by different tech companies, also underpin the success of our approach to teach programming.

Previous Performance

For already more than 6 years, Catrobat is now working on providing its educational services to teenagers, reaching more than 500,000 users until now. Due to its beginnings at Graz University of technology, different fields of research and development have been considered by the people involved in a professional way. Analyzing the needs of teenagers and education, working with new technologies, or providing a technical infrastructure for users and contributors, are just some of the fields Catrobat was able to gain experience in. Within the last years there has especially been a research focus on making our services more suitable for girls and for educational purposes. Cooperations such as with the Scratch team of the MIT Media Lab, the British Museum, or Google, helped us also to carry out events, such as international online Game Jams, that gave us an insight into the needs of different user groups, such as girls and schools, that help us to reach an international and divergent audience. Beside the research which has been backed by scientific papers, theses, and conference presentations, the success of our app Pocket Code also helped us to win experience in networking with partners, establishing several user communities, and to respond to our users' needs. We learned to manage a broad number of contributors (more than 500), maintain a technical infrastructure for the several hundred thousand users already now using Pocket Code and, most importantly, we learned how to realize our vision of giving young people new chances through computational thinking.

The Team

Team Purpose

Catrobat's sole purpose is the spreading of computational thinking skills using the smartphones already now owned by billions of young people around the globe. Since 2010, around 500 volunteer pro bono contributors from 25 countries have worked on developing our free apps, created accompanying tutorials and educational materials such as massive open online courses, established collaboration platforms, organized international coding events, and translated it into 29 languages. The nonprofit project's purpose is exactly aligned with the eradication of the lack of coding skills among teenagers and young adults in an economically feasible, self sustaining, significant, and long term way, everywhere, in the US but also in developing countries in Africa, Asia, or South America. Based on our track record of so far reaching almost 500,000 people from 163 countries, we believe we will achieve our goal of making the world a better place for everyone, everywhere, together.

Team Structure

Catrobat's executive board is composed of senior team members with 4 to 6 years of experience in the project. They decide upon policies, define strategies, control its assets, oversee all activities that advance the nonprofit's effectiveness and sustainability, and make sure that we obey applicable laws and act in accordance with ethical practices. Since Catrobat is a free open source software project run by volunteers in their free time, there is a lot of fluctuation and a very flat and lean structure, necessitating good coordination. Catrobat's contributors are split up into several development and service teams for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, HTML5, all web services, as well as for User Experience and Usability, Design, Marketing, Education, and Technical Infrastructure. Precisely defined technical workflows orchestrate the communication between and within all teams. Each team is coordinated on a day to day basis by an experienced senior project member, as well as semi autonomously via a professional agile project management tool called Jira. Weekly meetings of each team ensure effective and efficient communication within each team, and bi weekly meetings of the executive board with the sub team coordinators between all teams, with usually around 20 participants. Strict test driven development practices ensure long term sustainability of Catrobat.