Come join in the fun and enter into the world of science and technology this month with your children!
The Coding Lab team has selected their favourite programme and exhibition in the month of January for families. Curiosity and wonder never stops!
Gardens by the Bay – #FutureTogether
In conjunction with the Singapore Bicentennial, digital art and light shows will be showcased at various locations, allowing families and children to reimagine time and space through mesmerizing animation and meticulous artworks.
16 Jan 2020 – 15 March 2020
Gardens by the Bay
Indoor Artworks: $10 /Free for Singaporeans
Outdoor Artworks: 7pm to midnight
With these fun events coming your way, you and your child will never be bored of learning! If you think your child can be the next tech genius, why not sign up for our weekly classes on our website too?
On 9th November, Tiny Thinkers was invited to celebrate the 15th anniversary of NLB’s kidsREAD programme. Tiny Thinkers had a booth for children to kickstart their Computational Thinking journey with our Junior Computational Thinking kit. The kit, developed by Tiny Thinkers and supported by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), allows children to plan a character’s story and also included hands-on activities for parents to complete with their children at home.
Thank you to President Halimah Yacob, Mr S Iswaran (Minister for Communications and Information), and Ms Low Tze Hui, for stopping by our booth to find out more about Tiny Thinkers and our goals for the children of Singapore!
Tiny Thinkers is proud to have been able to collaborate with NLB to reach out to more parents about the importance of Computational Thinking in today’s digital economy. This is especially relevant as this year’s kidsREAD programme was focused on promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics.
Throughout the year, we worked closely with NLB to hold free one-hour workshops titled ‘Tiny Thinkers On The Go’ at Tampines and Jurong Regional Libraries, where our Junior Computational Thinking kits were also distributed. We hope that participants of all our Tiny Thinkers events enjoyed completing the kit activities and that this jumpstarts their interests in computational thinking!
We also want to thank our Amazon Web Services volunteers who helped us to guide the children and spread the word about computational thinking among the event’s participants! We couldn’t have reached out to as many people without their assistance, persistence and love.
Tiny Thinkers will also continue to collaborate with NLB next year, where free Junior Computational Thinking Kits will be given out to 3,500 participants of the kidsREAD programme to equip them with the tools to be digitally-ready.
If you weren’t able to get a kit this year, fret not! We know that as parents, we all want to give our children a headstart in this digital age. Do keep a lookout on our Tiny Thinkers page (or Facebook page) for updates on what we’re doing and on our future events!
2020 definitely looks like an exciting year ahead for our Tiny Thinkers!
About kidsREAD A nationwide reading programme launched in 2004, it encourages positive attitudes towards reading and aims to inculcate good reading habits among young Singaporeans of all races, and especially those from low-income families.
Coding Lab and Tiny Thinkers were at the inaugural Smart Nation & U event on 30th November and 1st December to spread the coding word to families through fun. If you weren’t there, here’s the rundown on the things that happened!
On the other hand, Tiny Thinkers held free Tiny Thinkers On The Go workshops that distributed free Junior Computational Thinking kits for exciting parent-child activities.
We would like to thank our participants for joining us at our workshops, as well as the Smart Nation Ambassadors who were on-hand and actively facilitated learning among parents and children!
Coding Lab and Tiny Thinkers are pleased to work with Smart Nation Singapore once again at the Smart Nation & U event, to move towards the goal of Singapore becoming a world-class city with a leading economy powered by digital innovation. We look forward to the next time that we get to join forces again!
About Smart Nation Singapore It is a nationwide initiative by the Singapore Government to harness the power of technology to build a Digital Economy, Digital Government and Digital Society. It was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2014, who described the goal and future of this nation-building initiative as a Singapore “where we can create possibilities for ourselves beyond what we imagined possible”.
Remember Tiny Thinkers and their creative, fun ways to integrate computational thinking into your child’s everyday lives? Well good news, they’re back stronger than ever with new and improved activities rolled out – Now extending their outreach not just to parents, but also formal early childhood institutions island-wide, with over 3,500 kits!
Early last month, the Tiny Thinkers team was invited down to the annual Early Childhood Conference (ECC)2019 to share about the importance of computational thinking at the pre-school level. Amongst an array of activities at the ECC exhibition fair, Tiny Thinkers also conducted workshops for mums and dads to try out their exciting games with their children.
During the first half of the conference, IMDA Deputy Director Foo Hui Hui shared with early childhood educators on how preschools could step up and prepare young children to be future-ready with the award-winning Play Maker programme.
IMDA Deputy Director Hui Hui demonstrating one of their educational games
Coding Lab, the team behind Tiny Thinkers, then followed up with an informational sharing on the importance of computational thinking in today’s tech-led economy and how to kickstart its development within the comforts of the home in a simple, fun manner.
Coding Lab Co-founder Candice Wang also highlighted the shift in our economy towards one that is driven by Artificial Intelligence (A.I), algorithms and automation, urging educators and parents alike to start to prepare themselves from an early age.
Coding Lab co-Founder Candice Wang stressing the importance of starting young
She then went to share some market research findings, which illustrated that whilst more than 60% of the parents surveyed acknowledged the importance of learning coding, an alarming 95% do not have the knowledge or expertise to impart computational thinking skills to their children.
Candice then debunked the elusiveness of computational thinking with two simple ways to guide young learners aged 4 to 7 – through every-day activities (eg. Packing your schoolbag) that require little or no cost, and through the Tiny Thinkers Take Home Activity Kit.
Armed with the expertise of our tutors and Skool4Kidz on one hand and generous support from IMDA, Our SG Fund, Nexus, and Amazon on the other, Coding Lab and Tiny Thinkers is pleased to present new games such as Solve the Puzzle (Pattern Recognition), Build a House (Abstraction) and a full-fledged board-game (Keeping Singapore Strong) in their well-received Take Home Activity Kit.
Educators trying out the Tiny Thinkers activities
On the 2nd day of the ECC exhibition, the Tiny Thinkers team carried out a series of workshops for parents to try out 3 of their games (Robotibby, Solve The Puzzle, Build a House) and take home the Activity Kit for free!
Thinzar, the Head of Tiny Thinkers sharing about the importance of Computational Thinking
Kids figuring out how to bring Tibby to the banana
Putting their pattern recognition skills to the test
Building houses with shapes
So exciting, don’t you think? We at the Coding Lab, Tiny Thinkers, educators, parents and children alike all had so much fun! Stay tuned for more goodies and future workshops held by Tiny Thinkers by following them here.
A huge round of applause to our Champions, Leah, Ziv and Aahan, for winning 1st Place at the CodeXtremeApps (CXA) 2019 Junior Category, triumphing more than 30 other teams — We couldn’t be more proud!
Aahan and Leah on stage (Not in photo: Ziv)
“I feel ecstatic winning the top prize in this competition. The training from my classes at Coding Lab has prepared me well for the competition. It has guided me on how to solve the problems creatively.” said Ziv, still in awe from the results. The 12-year old was appointed as the group’s team leader due to his impressive performance shown at his weekly classes at Coding Lab. He has been attending Coding Lab classes for more than a year now, and consistently worked hard to refine and improve his code, which put him in good stead for the competition.
“He’s really good at coding.” quotes his tutor. “The games he creates in class are really exciting.”
But of course, teamwork makes the dream work. Without the combined strengths of all three teammates — the team would have not been as formidable.
“I feel like the training I got in my classes at Coding Lab helped me a lot in the CXA competition and feel very happy, privileged and grateful to have taken part,” said Leah. Leah often brings fresh and exciting concepts to the table for discussion.
Leah presenting their winning project
Last but not least, their winning project could not have been as polished without Aahan, who has been attending Coding Lab classes since the tender age of 7, and would skip going to birthday parties just so he could attend coding class every week without fail, which he has done for the past 2 years. The team’s youngest member contributed his knowledge gained from our Young Computer Scientists classes and was a critical part of the team.
It’s so rewarding seeing how far they’ve come since joining our introductory courses, all 3 started from our Scratch 1 course and progressed through our curriculum roadmap with regular classes; consistent practice makes perfect!— these students have displayed immense potential with quick progression and regular practice through our courses of varying difficulty. Keep it up, young talents!
Group photo with other Junior Category contestants
The Code::XtremeApps:: (CXA) hackathon is organised annually by IMDA to challenge minds and inspire innovative solutions for current issues that affect us. The theme this year was “Digital Transformation for a Better World”, and the focus was on improving the sustainability of the world we live in with new innovative and transformative digital solutions.
Participants addressed real-world challenges related to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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-edup (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!
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.
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.
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
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, studied at River Valley Primary School. He started off with Python 1 (S101) in 2018 and had completed Python 2 S111 at the time this article was written. He will be enrolling in NUS High in 2020.
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.
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