Thank you Capital 95.8FM for having us over to talk about Singapore’s digital landscape! With the rolling out of mandatory coding classes for upper primary students and Digital Clinics for Seniors, we shared our insights on these new initiatives and the general public’s response to the government’s efforts in bid of a SmartNation.

As the interview was conducted in Mandarin, we present to you the translated radio transcript in English for easy reading below:

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DJ Lingzhi: We are headed towards our goal as a SmartNation. The government is encouraging all citizens – young and old – to set forth this digital path, and many SMEs are also jumping on the digital bandwagon. Prospective Primary 4 to 6 students are now required to learn computational thinking, with mandatory coding classes pushed out from next year onwards. And as for secondary and tertiary students, 10 000 of them will get hold of the opportunities to learn cybersecurity skills and access relevant jobs. The old are not left behind either – Digital Clinics for Seniors are held islandwide to provide 1-to-1 help on basic digital skills such as using smartphones and its associated functions. PMETs are encouraged to volunteer for such activities at our local libraries and help the nation advance digitally, together as one. How exciting is that? If you have a child currently in school, do call and share with us your thoughts on these new policies.

DJ Lingzhi: In today’s digital age, what is the most valuable skill to learn? Have you caught up? On a global scale, how does Singapore rank? Are we keeping up with other advanced countries?

We’ve invited two experts in the field for today’s discussion – Foo Yong Ning, founder of educational centre Coding Lab, and Teow-Hin, NUS Computing professor and CEO of SecureAge Technology.

DJ Lingzhi: What are your opinions on Singapore’s digital landscape?

Teow-Hin: Currently, Singapore is a little behind in the schools’ aspect because they do not really go into the specifics in teaching students how to code, which to me is a fundamental skill.
If you do not understand how to code, you will only have a surface-level understanding of computers.

DJ LuLin: Coding is a very complicated thing to me. I first learned to code through a course in secondary school – we used a language called QBasic. I felt that it was very difficult and gave up after 3 months of classes. I felt that it wasn’t necessary to learn these since I’m not going to be developing software myself in the future. Why do I have to learn when I can just know how to use the software?

Teow-Hin: To put it another way, coding is like learning to type. It’s a basic skill of the digital future. Many kinds of jobs require some coding knowledge, and this is increasingly so as we move further down the digital path. Henceforth, if you are unfamiliar with coding, you may face difficulties in the workplace and in general.

DJ Lingzhi: Since a main function of education is to groom future talents for the workforce, having exposure to coding from primary school is particularly crucial in the digital age. While it is commendable that we are starting compulsory 10-hour enrichment classes for upper primary students, let’s hear it from Coding Lab on whether it’s sufficient for establishing a foundation in coding.

Yong Ning: I feel that 10-hours is very short. If you want to master coding, you would definitely require much more time. These 10 hours of classes are more to expose the students to the field. For example, it takes 4 long years for university graduates to attain a strong foundation in programming. Mastering coding within a 10-hour-long enrichment course is not very realistic.

DJ Lingzhi: Yes, it’s a good start for more kids to gain access to the wonders of coding, cultivate an interest in the field, and perhaps even sign up for more classes in the future.

DJ Lingzhi: So Coding Lab, you seem to be ahead of the game, with coding classes since 4 years ago?

Yong Ning: We can be considered so in Singapore, though other countries are definitely way more ahead.

DJ Lingzhi: Do Singapore parents actually send their kids to coding classes?

Yong Ning: Yes of course. More parents are recognising the importance of coding and computational thinking. We don’t learn math or science to only become mathematicians or scientists. Likewise, the benefits of learning to code, particularly computational thinking, extends beyond computers and will give your child an edge over others in the future. Computational thinking is all around us – For example, they are present in business processes. They are also used in finance, where computer programs revolutionize methods of calculation and management. There is also algorithmic trading…

DJ Lingzhi: How about the ordinary folk who live ordinary lives and do ordinary work? How relevant is coding in our everyday lives?

Teow-Hin: In my opinion, if you have some understanding of coding, you would see start to things in a new perspective. You’ll think, can this task be automated? Can we computerize these operations? Not only does this help businesses to maximise efficiency, but it also helps reduce the need for manpower. This doesn’t only apply to entrepreneurs – it’s good for any worker to know. You increase your productivity, get higher pay, apply for vacations…

DJ Lingzhi: Hahaha yes. We’re very happy to have with us Coding Lab and CEO Professor Teow Hin. We’ll be going for a short break and will be right back.

DJ Lingzhi: Dear parents, if you are still mulling over what career path you should pave for your kids, our SecureAge CEO may have important news to share with you. We all know that to be a doctor or lawyer, one must attain straight As and surpass strict requirements. However, in today’s day and age, there is an up and rising new field which also requires straight As. May the CEO please share with us.

Teow-Hin: Yes, in today’s circumstances, if you have no straight As, it would be difficult to get into computer science courses in universities like NUS. One main reason is that the pay for computer science graduates is very high – even higher than lawyers, though still lower than doctors. It’s already higher than a lot of fields. So from a student’s perspective, if you want to earn a lot of money after graduation, it’s good to go down the programming path. But most importantly, you really need to have an interest. If you don’t have the interest, it will be very tiresome and difficult. If you have the interest, coding is just like playing computer games. It’s very fun. It’s like playing computer games and earning a lot of money at the same time. Why not?

DJ Lingzhi: Haha I bet a lot of parents listening to this are thinking: My child keeps playing computer games instead of studying. So computer games are actually like a foundation for coding? Wow!

DJ LuLin: Recently I’ve been noticing that a lot of programmers working here are actually foreign talents. Is the government also hoping to cultivate locally bred talents by increasing the general population’s access to coding? Is the coding curriculum in schools enough? Are people really interested in coding?

Teow-Hin: For the past few years, the MOE has been pressuring universities to increase university intake, which has now increased by leaps and bounds. Looking at it from a macro perspective, the demand for the I.T field is increasing because, after all, our world is increasingly digitalised. Everything requires programming, and as more and more things become automated, naturally we would require more programmers. It’s that simple!

DJ Lingzhi: Will there ever be a problem of obsolescence, with the speed at which technology is advancing? Will the languages graduates learn in university become obsolete after 4 years?
Will university students go through 4 years of studying, only to realise after graduation that the languages they’ve learned are obsolete?

Teow-Hin: No because as mentioned previously, once you’ve learned a coding language, you’ll find it easier to pick up other languages. So this learned skill will never become obsolete.

DJ Lingzhi: Yes, we always emphasize lifelong learning. You don’t stop learning even in the working world. I feel that it’s good for children to start young and establish a foundation early. So is it considered late if we only begin coding at 7 years old? Can 5 years old children code too?

Yong Ning: We accept kids as young as 4 to start learning code. Different age groups learn different concepts and content.

DJ Lingzhi: So what do 4-year-old students learn?

Yong Ning: What’s most important about coding is computational thinking. It’s basically logical thinking. At the preschool level, students mainly learn how to give instructions. Because after all, coding is about giving computers instructions clearly. At the primary school level, 7 to 12-year-olds would move on to using drag and drop block-based programming platforms such as Scratch to master computational thinking.

DJ Lingzhi: Do you need to be particularly gifted to learn to code? How long does it take, let’s say, an ordinary kid to learn to program an app or simple game? Is it a long, arduous process?

Yong Ning: 20 hours of lessons is sufficient for kids to create their own simple program and/or games, using intuitive, child-friendly platforms such as Scratch and MIT App Inventor.

DJ Lingzhi: So 10, 20 hours is actually sufficient to learn how to program simple games?

Yong Ning: Yes very simple apps and games, not those that you find on the market haha. These kind of platforms are more for them to master computational thinking in a fun and engaging way.

DJ Lingzhi: Yeah if kids could learn to code within just 10 hours, NUS graduates wouldn’t need to study for 4 years. Hahaha. It seems like secondary and tertiary school students are also starting to touch on network security-related subjects too. Let’s have the CEO share with us more about this topic.

Teow-Hin: Yes, everyone should learn about cybersecurity. In an age where everything is digitalized, any information can be hacked and easily retrieved – one can be at risk of financial losses and damage of reputation. Hence cybersecurity is just as important as coding in this digital economy. We should all have at least a basic understanding of cybersecurity so we won’t fall for traps laid by hackers.

DJ Lingzhi: All the elders tuning into this talk show may be thinking, “I’m already so old, why must I still learn about cybersecurity and coding?” As we move towards the goal of a SmartNation, we can’t leave anyone behind; we must move forward together. That’s why we have nation-wide Digital Clinics set up for elders to receive 1-to-1 guidance from technology experts. Everyone should have an interest, and the elderly are no exception.

Teow-Hin: If you use the internet, the phone, the computer on a daily basis, you are already participating in the digital economy.

DJ LuLin: Yes, I meet a lot of elders who are very wary of the internet. My mother doesn’t even dare to use the QR code scanner. She thinks that if she scans the code, her bank money will get swallowed away. Hahaha.

Teow-Hin: There are two different extremes. On one hand of the spectrum are those who do not use computers and are strangers to cybersecurity. On the other hand are those who are very familiar with technology, so familiar to the point that they fear hackers because they know how powerful hackers can be.

DJ Lingzhi: So as we come to the end of today’s programme, let’s give the parents a few tips. Is there really a need to send their kids to learn to code at age 7? How important is it? Should it be encouraged?

Yong Ning: Learning to code from age 7 is very beneficial. Look at Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg – they, too, started learning to code since young. More and more parents are hopping onto the digital bandwagon, sending their kids for coding classes so as to not lose out.

Teow-Hin: It’s a very good start for students to be able to attend coding lessons. If everyone has some basic understanding of coding, they can see things from a digital perspective, and use them to solve problems. This will definitely benefit their future development.

DJ Lingzhi: One of our listeners (46-year-old!) says that they’re going to attend R and Python programming classes. Seems like we all need to start taking action… I am going to start attending lessons too hahaha. Once again, thank you Secure Age CEO NUS Professor and Coding Lab Founder Foo Yong Ning for today!

Yong Ning and Teow-Hin: Thank you

Thank you Channel 8 News for the 2 June news feature! Did you catch us? If you haven’t, here’s a clip of the news feature.

At Coding Lab, we are proud to be at the forefront of nurturing the future generation of digital creators and leaders.

Scroll down to read what went on in the interview.

With increasing interest in application development and the like, Singaporeans are now flocking towards coding enrichment centres and learning to code at an early age.

1 Dylan and Educator

Dylan in the midst of a Python lesson

At just the age of 12, Dylan is already adept with professional coding language Python to program simple math games. “We want Dylan well-equipped with the appropriate skill sets to succeed in life. Programming and IT appears to be an area of growth and career opportunity for the future,” said the student’s mother.

3 Dylan and mother

Most careers are associated with programming

Dylan and his parents are not alone in anticipation of an imminent Smart Nation. The fascination with technology continues, with an increased spotlight on coding, application development, and the like. Not only are children picking up coding at progressively younger ages, universities are also expanding admissions quota for relevant IT courses.

2 Game

A simple mathematical game coded by Dylan

Cue Coding Lab, one of the pioneer coding educational centres since 2013. In just 2 years, student subscription at the centre has increased five times. There, kids as young as 4 start acquainting themselves with coding, or computational thinking in a fun and novel manner. One of their many ways to bridge coding with hands-on play include building a digital piano program, which encompasses electric circuits, music and computational thinking.

4 News Reporter

Student intake has increased 5 times within just 2 years

Said educator Ms Liu, “More and more parents are realising the importance of coding. It’s not just about teaching kids to code, but also about training their computational thinking and problem solving skills.”

5 Yilin

More parents are starting to realise the importance of coding today

That way, transitioning to more complex coding in the near future will be much easier.

Thank you CGTN for the news feature on the importance of coding in today’s world! Did you catch us? If you’ve missed it, no sweat! Read on for our summary of the video.

Recent years have seen a spike in efforts in digital technology and the building up of artificial intelligence. In response to the government’s urges for a SmartNation, schools, students and parents are moving towards computational learning in preparation for the future job market.

“Technology is transforming every sector of the economy, with students and parents responding to the emerging tech-driven future,” says Dean of NUS School of Computing Mohan Kankanhalli. In the past three years, there has been a surge in demand for computing-related courses at the undergraduate and graduate level at the National University of Singapore.

1 Dean NUS

“Everyone should learn to code, even if they don’t intend to work in the technical field in future,” exclaims 14-year-old Vayun, who has already mastered 6 different programming languages under his belt. The avid coder aspires to pursue a career in robotics or AI (Artificial Intelligence), and strongly believes in the value of code in today’s digitalized world. “Learning to program prepares your brain and helps you understand how to tackle complex algorithmic problems. Other than the realm of software, there are many situations in life where we would need problem solving skills.”

2 Student

Vayun is among thousands of Singaporean students picking up coding in order to keep up with the digital wave. In response to the surge in demand, private education centres have, too, multiplied in recent years, offering coding classes for children as young as 4 years old.

3 Candice

“Back in our corporate days, my co-founder and I both encountered automation in the office, but we realised a lot of people didn’t know how and were still doing tons of manual work,” Candice Wang, Coding Lab co-founder explains. “If they had been introduced to programming, say, even basic excel VBA when they were younger, their work would have been made easier.” And so came the birth of Coding Lab, one of the pioneers of the coding enrichment market.

4 Literacy

A business hub in the heart of Asia, Singapore is quickly attaining its goal of becoming an innovative centre with the technological shift, together as one.

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Last month, we were delighted to have lunch with Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and the team from Tiny Thinkers. We were very honoured to be praised for our efforts and expertise in bringing computational thinking to the masses, regardless of economic background. As firm believers in giving back, we are absolutely thrilled to have been recognised by Minister Balakrishnan for complementing Singapore’s pursuits of a SmartNation. Indeed, here at Coding Lab, we believe that computational thinking should be accessible to everyone, including very young children.  

Stay tuned for more exciting events as we work even harder with Smart Nation Singapore and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) as we scale up for Tiny Thinkers part 2! Coming end 2019. 

Singapore’s largest tech fair, Digital Wonderland, is back again but bigger and better, and Coding Lab is exhilarated to have been invited again by IMDA this year! Held at the Suntec Convention Centre last weekend (17-18 May), the exhibition hall was decorated with eye-catching LED installations on the ceiling and packed with exciting free activities ranging from VR games, coding competitions and esports challenges to interactive workshops. And of course, booths and booths of free food — Chicken waffles, yogurt, and pizza?!

Did you catch us last weekend? If you have not, sit tight and we’ll fill you in real quick.

On Saturday, we held our Robot shooter workshop where students were taught to make their own game app through the MIT App Inventor 2. Before you think, what? Workshop in the middle of a noisy, bustling exhibition? Be amazed as the workshop harnessed the marvels of technology to carry out a peaceful class, with the instructors’ microphone linked to the students’ headphones directly. Talk about learning in the 21st century!

App Inventor Workshop with students from SINDA and The Tanglin School
App Inventor Workshop with students from SINDA and The Tanglin School

On the second day, Sunday, we carried out our parent-child Quiz app workshop, where we taught participants how to use the Thunkable platform to design their own fully functional apps, launchable onto both Android and iOs app store.

A Parent-Child Workshop on Thunkable
A Parent-Child Workshop on Thunkable

While the workshops went on, along with a myriad of other exciting activities, the rest of our Coding Lab Team had loads of fun entertaining a steady stream of crowd at our booth. We zhng-ed up (modified) some of our students’ Scratch games by connecting a micro:bit as a controller. Kids were seen motivated to beat their high scores and bypass the various challenges faced, especially the game Maze. Never estimate the brains of an 11 year old child!

Trying out the maze game with Micro:bit controls
Trying out the maze game with Micro:bit controls

Besides the snaking queues behind our monitor for the Scratch games, we had children try out our mobile app games (such as Robot Shooter and Bumper Car), also created by our very own students. And last but not least, many of the little ones were seen exhilarated by our friendly robot Photon, as they tried to program the robot to move to and fro.

Say Hello to Photon the robot - who can operate under 5 modes of coding complexity
Say Hello to Photon the robot – which can operate under 5 modes of coding complexity

Besides all the games and fun at our booth, our friendly team members had a very good chat answering queries of all interested parents and spreading the joys of coding.

We can’t wait to see you guys again at our next fair! We’ll be back as soon as you know it.

 

Meet Dylan, 11, who is already programming in Python. An avid learner, this young, driven boy has written solutions to problems that students typically encounter at the Pre-U level. Our team speaks with him to find out what motivates him:

Coding Lab: Hi Dylan! Tell us about yourself. How did you get started with Coding?

Dylan: My mum noticed my interest in solving maths problems and suggested that I learn coding as it is similar in nature as it uses logic to solve problems. She also bought some books for me to read for a start, to see if I have interest to learn coding.

Dylan’s parents: As parents, we always want the best for our children. Programming/coding seems to be an area of growth & career opportunity for the future; hence we want Dylan to be well-equipped with the right skill set to succeed in his life/career. Of course, he needs to have an interest in order to be able to do well. Fortunately, his interest in Math since young has helped him pick up coding quickly, and he liked it from the onset.

Meet Dylan, 11, Python whiz
Meet Dylan, 11, Python whiz

Coding Lab: How is your experience learning Coding so far?

Dylan: I enjoy Coding Lab lessons a lot. The small class size allows me to ask questions freely and interact with the teacher. This is especially useful because I am able to tackle the mental obstacles quickly when I am coding.

Coding Lab: What do you like most about coding?

Dylan: I find coding very systematic in approach and very challenging to the mind. In a way, it is similar to solving math problems. I find that it does in some ways help me in solving math problems at school.

Dylan’s Parents: It could be too early to tell if coding helps in his daily life, but it definitely helps train his mind to be more systematic in thinking. This mental training does help him in solving difficult Maths problems.

The process of building the code is fun because it makes me think & approach the problem systemically and to apply logic to the process.

Dylan's Coin Sum Program

Dylan’s Coin Sum Program

Coding Lab: Tell us about a favourite program you have written.

Dylan: I wrote a “Coins-sum” program. When I input a figure into the program, it will generate the number of ways that the figure can be divided by, based on our Singapore dollar denomination. I like it because it is useful. Creating the program requires me to put an if-loop within a while-loop. The process of building the code is fun because it makes me think & approach the problem systemically & to apply logic to the process.

Coding Lab: Do you think that learning to Code has helped you at school?

Dylan: My favourite subject at school is Maths. I find that Coding helps train the mind to be logical & systematic, both traits are useful in the application of Maths.

Coding Lab: What else do you do in your spare time (apart from coding!)?

Dylan: My hobbies are playing computer games & reading books on history & war. I also like to play Badminton & Carom.

Dylan, 11, is currently studying at River Valley Primary School. He started off with our Python 1 (S101) course in late 2018 and has completed Python 2 S111. 

Surya Nayar, 14, is no ordinary student. At his young age, he can count Python and C++ programming skills under his belt. This savvy student wrote his own stock rating algorithm after attending a Masterclass on Data Analytics with us. Here, he shares with us his journey in programming:

Q: What gave you the idea for this program?

I got the idea a few years back when a friend of my parents was showing me the software he used to trade stocks. That got me thinking about whether the software could eventually replace human traders and deliver profits. So I started researching algorithmic trading (the process whereby the computer executes trades on its own) and familiarizing myself with stock markets in general. I also read up about Fintech (financial technology) to explore was already commercially available.

In December 2018, I signed up for the Data Analytics workshop at Coding Lab, knowing its relevance in the real world. At the workshop, I saw how sentiment analysis of tweets and newspaper headlines could give me a good overview of what people, or the market, felt about a particular company’s stock prices, thus giving me a new idea about how to go about the program, albeit at a rudimentary level.

I signed up for the Data Analytics workshop at Coding Lab, knowing its relevance in the real world.

Meet Surya, 14
Meet Surya, 14-years-old

Q: What were some considerations you had to factor in when making this program?

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, was my experience (or rather, lack of it). I had used Python in the past to develop programs, but I had never developed anything in this vein. This really affected what I was able to do with my code – I could not, for example, execute real transactions or forecast whether the stock price is going to go up or down. All I could do was analyze the sentiment about a company’s stocks at one point of time and try to advise the program’s user accordingly – but even this was not perfected. Knowing that I was inexperienced made me avoid making things too complicated, and also allowed me to be realistic with myself regarding my program’s abilities.

Another consideration was the time frame. The workshop only lasted for five days, and I had to complete the program within that time frame. This was quite a tight timeframe, so I practiced during and outside of the workshop, manipulating characters in the code we were given to see what effect it would have on the overall program, and writing more code to complete the program. With the time limit hovering over me, I really couldn’t do much else, or else I would risk having an incomplete program. This time constraint put things into perspective in terms of what I could and could not do.

Q: What were some challenges you faced when developing the program?

I didn’t face many challenges when developing the program, except for some parts of the debugging process. Debugging is the process of locating errors in and rectifying your code after the program fails to execute what it is supposed to. When I was writing my own code, I frequently encountered errors with the for loops I was using, but after debugging, these were minor imperfections which I got rid of efficiently – so I wasn’t too frustrated.

As a coder, I submit to debugging as a compulsory ritual one must perform, in order for the code to be truly perfect.

Surya, on a Holiday to Egypt
Surya, on a Holiday to Egypt

Q: How did your Coding Lab mentors guide you for this project?

For this project, my mentor was Ms. Mona Tan. She helped in almost every way possible. She taught me how to use sentiment analysis on tweets and news articles, which was indispensable for my project. A lot of the code that I ended up using in my program was partially borrowed from what she wrote, including the names of the variables. She was always ready and willing to help whenever I faced a problem, such as debugging long-winded or inefficient code, my occasionally-shaky understanding of the material covered in the workshop – I deeply appreciate her constant support. Lastly, since I was unable to get approval as a Twitter developer in time for the workshop, I ended up using her authorization keys in order to access developer features in Twitter – a pre-requisite for the project, without which I wouldn’t be here answering these questions.

My vision is to be as complete as possible, with a graphical user interface (GUI) and full forecasting. I also want to draw on real-life market data and use machine learning to predict stock price behavior.

Surya's Algorithmic Stock Rater
Surya’s Algorithmic Stock Rater

Q: Are you working on any other projects/programs in the meantime?

For a start, I’m working to evolve the project that I developed in the workshop – My vision is to be as complete as possible, with a graphical user interface (GUI) and full forecasting. I also want to draw on real-life market data and use machine learning to predict stock price behavior. Additionally, I want to implement a feature where the program could scrape the web and build a database of events which may cause stock prices to rise or fall – for example, when Apple announces a new iPhone in September, the program should know that stock prices are likely to rise and use that information to better advise users.

For general programming, – to be honest – I haven’t done as much as I had hoped to this year. I got into competitive programming relatively recently and I go for classes at Coding Lab for the National Olympiad in Informatics (NOI). During the classes, I solve as many problems as I can, but as the problems get harder, it takes a longer time for me to solve them, so I end up doing much less than I intended to. Outside of class, I don’t code much, but I plan to finish reading my book on data structures and algorithms, during my upcoming holiday in India. I have created accounts on multiple competitive programming websites such as TopCoder, CodeForces, CodeChef and dunjudge.me. In 2019, I am really hoping to up my programming game.

Q: What advice would you give to young coders who are new to coding?

#1: Start off simple and aim small. You don’t have to know how to make an entire game, full of spaceships and complex 3D objects right at the start. My first ever program was in Scratch, and it was quite simply a game where you pressed the right arrow multiple times to move a car up a mountain – That was it! A lot of young coders are ambitious, which is good, but it also means that they tend to set unrealistic expectations of themselves and what they can achieve. If you start off simple and work step by step, you’re much less likely to be disheartened earlier on. This doesn’t, however, mean that you shouldn’t challenge yourself – just don’t bite off more than you can chew. One of the biggest shocks for me as a beginning ‘coder’ was in 2017, when I was unable to code a simple program that identified prime numbers and non-prime numbers despite me having ‘coded’ for the last few years. Later on, I realized it was because I was aiming so high initially, that I never got around to solving simpler, more real problems.

There is no such thing as perfection in coding – your code can always be made cleaner, more efficient, or just better – but as you code more and more, you’ll eventually realize how the same problem can be solved in an even better manner, and you can get as near to perfection as possible.

#2: Practice as much as you can. Coding is built on practice and repetition. It’s a muscle, and like all other muscles, it must be trained for it to grow. Nobody can become Mark Zuckerberg without coding dozens of horrible websites first and then eventually coding Facebook. It doesn’t matter if you’re wrong, but you should correct yourself quickly and make a note to yourself not to repeat the same mistakes. There is no such thing as perfection in coding – your code can always be made cleaner, more efficient, or just better – but as you code more and more, you’ll eventually realize how the same problem can be solved in an even better manner, and you can get as near to perfection as possible. As an example: When one learns sorting, one usually starts with the easy-to-understand bubble sort (which, however, is a rather slow and inefficient algorithm that sorts numbers) – as your understanding evolves, you understand more complex and efficient sorting algorithms, such as merge sort.

Surya, 14, is a student at Raffles Institution. He started off with our basic Python (S101) course in 2017 and has since progressed to S121 and C++ programming.

Coding Lab is deeply honoured to have been invited for a live radio interview with Capital 95.8FM. Capital 95.8FM is a pioneering Chinese radio station which specialises in current affairs, finance, and lifestyle content.

Yong Ning with Ee Sim, 98.5FM host DJ
Yong Ning with Ee Sim, 98.5FM host DJ

In their 8th January morning show, co-founder Foo Yong Ning shared with Ko Ee Sim, host radio presenter, on the importance of digital literacy for the younger generation. Ee Sim is the anchor host for the station’s morning show which specialises on local current affairs and social issues.

Before going live on-air at the broadcast studio
Mr Foo, before going live on-air at the broadcast studio

As the interview was conducted in Mandarin, we present to you the translated radio transcript in English for easy reading below.

Capital958logo

Coding Lab logo

Ee Sim: Today we have with us the co-founder from Coding Lab, Foo Yong Ning. Good morning, Yong Ning! You studied Engineering in university right? Coming from a science and engineering background, is it natural to have a keen interest in computers and the like?

Foo: Yes I feel that this is the case for most people.

Ee Sim: Unless you were forced to learn engineering, it should be natural to be interested in this field, am I right?

Foo: Yes definitely. I am very lucky that my parents did not force me to learn engineering. I pursued the field voluntarily based on interest.

Ee Sim: It seems that you had completed your masters degree in Computational Design at MIT. After coming back to Singapore, why did you decide to open a coding educational centre for children?

Foo: The idea for our educational business did not arise immediately. Back then, I was working for an American MNC. Only in 2015 then did I think about starting a learning centre for kids. One fine day, I chanced upon a talk which gave me an epiphany. That talk made me realise how important it is for the new generation to pick up coding.

Ee Sim: Wow, since 4 years ago in 2015?

Foo: Yes, and what’s important is not just coding, but computational thinking too. Initially, it was more about how I could benefit my own children, given that we just had a recent addition to the family. However, gradually, we thought about extending our outreach to benefit more children around the country.

Ee Sim: Why is computational thinking so important to children?

Foo: In today’s age, computational thinking permeates every single aspect of our lives. For example, essential apps such as Google, Grab, and Facebook are all built on computer programs. They are all built on code, which requires computational thinking to be carried out.

Ee Sim: Indeed, we really cannot keep away from products of computational thinking because we use them so often. These applications are all products of man. If we possess computing skills and a solid foundation, we can definitely create more and better applications. In addition, understanding what goes behind these technological products may lead to a greater appreciation for it.  

Foo: Yes indeed, but I must say that it is not just about inventing things individually. At work, we may need to collaborate and communicate with developers that some applications or processes need improvement. Computational thinking offers many benefits in this area as well.

Ee Sim: Do you think that the popularity of coding courses for children has soared since Coding Lab’s opening in 2015?

Foo: Yes definitely. More parents and children have started to recognise the importance of learning coding. On one hand, parents have realised the infiltration of coding in our everyday lives. On the other hand, the government has also highlighted the importance of digital literacy through its policies.

Ee Sim: Certainly, the government, private organizations and even MNCs are encouraging children to learn coding. What are your views on parents who send their children to learn coding at an early age?

Foo: This question is tough because the parents of our students all come from different fields, educational backgrounds, and socio-economic status. Therefore, it is very difficult to place them into one homogenous group. But if I had to pick out a specific group, it would be those who are very concerned for their children’s education and future.

Ee Sim: Do the parents who send their children at your centre know exactly what coding is?

Foo: To put it simply, coding is just the act of instructing computers to do what we want them to do.

Ee Sim: What are the benefits of learning coding?

Foo: There are many benefits to learning coding. One direct application is that we can build our own web programs like Google and Facebook, or even create video games such as Angry Birds. I must stress that what’s more important here is how computational thinking is cultivated through the process of learning coding. You must be wondering, what exactly is this ‘computational thinking’? Computational thinking is a skill that allows us to make use of computer science to solve problems. It is made up of problem decomposition and pattern recognition, abstraction and algorithm design.

Ee Sim: If I don’t intend to make my child a coder or programmer when he/she grows up, do I still need to send my child to learn coding?

Foo: That is a very good question. To answer that, let me ask you another question back: Most of us did not end up as Mathematicians, but why were we made to learn Mathematics when young?

Ee Sim: Yes, so it is just a skill. Perhaps in the future, computational thinking will become like Mathematics, a compulsory subject in schools.

Ee Sim: Ok so we will be taking a break now, in the second half, Yong Ning will be sharing with you more about Coding Lab’s curriculum.

Ee Sim: In the first half our interview, we have established the importance of coding in today’s world. It seems that coding can be used in investment too.  

Foo: Definitely. For example, in quantitative trading, computer programs are utilised to help traders decide on the direction of investment.

Ee Sim: Yes, the computer really does a lot for us. Humans are unable to handle large amounts of data without the help of computers. Also, if the process tends to be consistent in nature, doing it using computers will be much more effective.

Foo: Yes, the computer can analyse more data and consider more factors.

Ee Sim: At Coding Lab, what ages do you welcome and are the courses long or short term?

Foo: We have courses tailored for children from as young as 4 to 18 years old.

Ee Sim: Really? 4 years old? They don’t even know how to hold a pencil properly!

Foo: Actually at age 4, the main learning outcome is not so much about coding in itself, but to understand how to give instructions clearly. It is more about giving children a head start in computational thinking, learning how to structure their thoughts, and not coding per se. It is to guide the child to know how to give specific instructions to achieve their desired outcomes.

Ee Sim: How about primary school children?

Foo: As they are older, we use platforms such as Scratch and App Inventor to teach coding. These platforms are highly visual, and have a drag-and-drop based interface — perfect for children. These platforms allow children to focus on computational thinking and not worry about writing code because endless scripts of code tend to be intimidating to most people. Through these 2 platforms, they can create their own games and stimulate their interest in game design and programming.

Ee Sim: Wow so even primary school children can create their own apps! What kind of era is this? So what about secondary school students, do they learn something more complicated?

Foo: As secondary school students are more accustomed with typing, we teach them standard coding languages such as Python, which have very broad uses in the real world. For example, in one of our data analytics courses, we had a secondary school student who was very interested in stocks.

Ee Sim: Interested in stocks at such a young age?

Foo: Yes, due to family influence perhaps. After attending our data analytics course, he thought about how he could apply whatever he had learnt into stocks.

Ee Sim: So through your courses, children will achieve mastery in this fundamental skill which can be applied into solving problems in our daily lives?  

Foo: Yes, students can apply computational thinking and coding knowledge to create anything of their interest — games, mobile applications etc. If they have a keen interest in Mathematics, we also have training courses to prepare them for the annual National Olympiad Informatics (NOI) competition held by National University of Singapore (NUS).

Ee Sim: Every child has different personalities and interests. As such, do you think that all children should pick up coding?

Foo: I feel that every child should have some foundation in coding. While it holds true that not everyone will grow up to be a programmer, I believe that in future, we will all need to come in contact with things related to coding. For example in the workplace, we may need to communicate with developers on how to improve their products and/or processes. Therefore, I believe that every child should have some knowledge in this field.

Ee Sim: For the past 100 years, our educational system has focused on writing and arithmetics. However, 100 years from now, coding may very well be incorporated into our compulsory syllabus as it has come to be a necessary skill.

Foo: 50 years ago, if someone had a good grasp of their languages and mathematics, they would be able to do well at their job. However, in the future, it may be computational thinking instead.

Ee Sim: Do you think that is possible to learn coding ourselves?  

Foo: Like many other skills, coding is not impossible to self-learn; It will just be more difficult. Learning things by ourselves can already be a challenge for adults, much less for children. It is very difficult to learn things if we do not have a clear picture of what we are trying to achieve. Therefore, learning through a well-planned curriculum with good guidance is much more effective and time saving.

Ee Sim: Do our government schools offer coding lessons?

Foo: Yes many do. In fact, we have collaborated with various MOE schools to conduct coding classes. These schools reach out to us because a majority of school teachers are unfamiliar with coding. These coding enrichment classes offer students a glimpse into the realm of coding, and those who are enticed will come to us at Coding Lab to further their interest.  

Ee Sim: Thank you. Today we are very happy to have the co-founder of Coding Lab to share with us about coding and its benefits.

Foo: Thank you too.

Founded in 2002, Scratch’s drag-and-drop block-based interface has grown to be one of the world’s top visual programming languages. Colourful, intelligible and intuitive, this very friendly coding language is designed primarily for the young and beginners of all ages to the realm of code.

Indeed, developed by the MIT Media Lab, Scratch has been weaved into the educational curriculum of schools worldwide, from enrichment classes to even Computer Science introductory courses in universities. Today, the Scratch online community – with a population of 35 million registered users – has amassed over 37,000,000 shared projects and counting.

Just like us all, Scratch has come a long way, constantly improving and transforming. By now, you should have already heard of Scratch 3.0 which was only just officially launched in January 2019.

All of us are familiar with the Scratch which we have all grown to love; thus the impending change may feel a little intimidating. However, no need to fear, the Coding Lab Team is here!

Let’s welcome Scratch’s new changes with open arms, as we hold your hand and guide you through these uncharted waters in this article, together.

Below are 5 things you need to know about Scratch 3.0:

  1. A sleek makeover

The first most striking difference in this new version is the new interface.

The layout has been rearranged to a more intuitive order from left to right. Everything is now displayed more prominently and clearly for you to see.  

Rearranged left-to-right layout
Rearranged left-to-right layout

One feature which speaks out to us notably is the visualization of angles which makes it easier for young students to understand directionality.

Visualization of the different angles
Visualization of the different angles

Our favourite and colourful blocks are still there, but are now bigger and better. It is now so much easier to drag, drop, and type in the spaces of those little boxes.

In addition, there is also  more space to unleash your creativity with unlimited scripts using the new function that instantly expands the canvas laterally.

An expandable canvas
An expandable canvas
  1. The more the merrier

Indeed, the most exciting new feature hands down is the fresh collection of characters, backdrops, and sounds.

From llamas to even mermaids, the ways you can express your creativity with the new range of sprites are limitless.

Some of the new available sprites
Some of the new sprites available

Always wanted to dress your human sprite up? Your dream came true Now you can play dress-up with your favourite sprite doll using the wide array of costumes available.

Snippet of the new sprite library
A snippet of the new sprite library

After choosing your characters, dress them up and take them out on an adventure with the new backdrops to the farm, over the hill, or out into the galaxy. Endless fun and possibilities await!

New exciting backdrops
New exciting backdrops

As for the new sounds, there are three new categories such as Space, Sports, and Wacky.

The new hover-to-preview interface of the libraries is much more intuitive and friendly for the young. Children, especially, will be all on the floor over the new sound effects, for sure!

Refurbished sounds library
Refurbished sounds library
  1. Edit like a pro

The improved paint editor is now more sophisticated and comprehensible, making it easier for children to navigate through the tools and functions, as they unleash their artistic talents.

New features in paint editor
New features in paint editor

Even more exciting is the upgraded sound editor, which now enables users to trim tracks, adjust the speed, play with sound filters, and even play the sound in reverse.

Any Scratch educator can assure you that the sounds are always a huge favourite among kids, and we believe this new feature will certainly leave young children exhilarated.

New sound editor functions
Exploring the New sound editor functions
  1. Extensions

If you were wondering where the Pen and Music blocks have gone to, do not fret no blocks were harmed in the making of Scratch 3.0. These blocks have just moved into the “Extensions” section, located snugly at the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.

These extensions allow Scratchers to bridge the gap between the digital and physical world. Users can now incorporate Scratch to program physical devices such as the micro: bit, the mBot and interactive LEGO robots.

Moreover, we can now integrate Scratch with Google Translate, connecting coders of all languages around the world.

Scratch Cat saying Hello in 4 different languages
The Scratch Cat saying Hello in 4 different languages
  1. Scratch on the Go Anytime, Anywhere

Last but not least, good news for mobile fans: Scratch will now be available on tablets and Chromebooks!

Powered by HTML5, it runs on all browsers (excluding Internet Explorer) and Flash player plug-ins are now made redundant. Just finished a Scratch class and having high-tea at a nearby cafe with your child or waiting for the train? You can now review or edit your child’s programs on-the-go!

Goodbye 2.0, Hello 3.0

Though it may look foreign on the surface, deep down, Scratch 3.0 is still the Scratch we know and adore. In no time, the previous version will feel antique, just like an outdated Apple iOs. All existing accounts and projects will continue to work and the platform remains free of charge.

We’re absolutely psyched for the new version, how about you?

 

Introducing Silver Plus, an app for the elderly created by our very own Ian, 14. The idea which was conceived and designed entirely by Ian, was to enable our elderly to engage with each other, make new friends, and even play games across their mobile phones. Let’s take a deeper look at the process:

Hi Ian! Could you share with us What gave you the idea for this app?

I came up with the idea on my own. I came up with the idea for an app to engage the elderly as the suggested theme for school projects this year was on giving back to the community. I wanted to match this theme with my love for technology. I ran the idea by both my school mentor as well as Teacher Yong Ning and they pointed me to what was technically feasible.

Ian, 1st from left in programming class
Ian, first from left, in a programming class at Coding Lab Upper Bukit Timah

I came up with the idea for an app to engage the elderly as the suggested theme for school projects this year was on giving back to the community. I wanted to match this theme with my love for technology.

What were some considerations you had to factor in when making this app?

The considerations were 1) skill sets needed to code the app; 2) actual usefulness and 3) whether it will be better than those currently available.

What were some challenges you faced when developing the app?

I needed to learn Django and some of the app functions, such as checking for contact details, needed database skills. I also had only a short period of time to learn all the skills I needed as there was a dateline for the project. I supplemented what I had learned in coding class with googling online for specific information to make my app.

Onboarding the senior
Step 1: Onboarding and selection of interest areas
Step 2: Connecting with family and friends (matched by interest area)
Step 2: Connecting with family and friends (matched by interest area)
Step 3: Engaging family and friends (Constant updates and posts)
Step 3: Engaging family and friends through Games, Updates and Activities

How did your Coding Lab mentors guide you for this project?

Not only were my mentors at Coding Lab very helpful in giving me feedback on my ideas during the design stage, but they also helped me to focus on learning the core programming languages needed for this project. Also, Teacher Ranald patiently advised me when I ran into difficulties debugging my codes and shared some of his expert knowledge on chat interface programming with me. 

What advice would you give to young coders who are new to coding?

Take time to plan your design and ask for other people’s opinions on the design. When coding, make sure you do your documentation so that you will not get confused and lost as the number of lines of code increases.

Ian, 14, is a student at Hwa Chong Institution. He started off with our basic Python (S101) course in 2017 and has since progressed to S121 and C++ programming.