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!
Yong Ning and Teow-Hin: Thank you