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