In tech speak, coding, formally known as computer programming, is a process which leads from an original formulation of a computing problem to executable computer programs. Was that all Greek to you? In more beginner-friendly terms, coding is the process which enables us to create computer software, mobile applications and even websites. Your browser, your operating system, that highly addictive Candy Crush game which you have downloaded on your mobile, and this very website on which you are reading this article right now are all engineered using code! If you have all along been considering coding as an activity which only tech geek adults indulge in, you are mistaken. Coding is for just about anyone who has an interest in it. And that includes our little ones too, of course! Even our nation’s Prime Minister made headlines last week for having created a code for a Sudoku puzzle solver! Mr Lee maintained that it was essential for Singapore to stay ahead of the game with regards to technology and programming.
The craze for learning code has been catching on in recent times, amongst adults and kids alike. So how exactly does coding work? Writing code instructs the computer on what to do. Computers can only comprehend two types of data: on and off. A computer is actually just a collection of on and off transistors. Anything a computer executes is basically a unique combination of some transistors turned on and some off. And how are these combinations of transistors represented? Using the digits 1 and 0. This is known as binary code. But you would have already realised a problem by now – creating a program by using billions of 1s and 0s would require superhuman brain power! (and this lifetime wouldn’t suffice – yikes!) This is where programming language comes in to simplify the process. It allows us to create code that is easy for us to write, read and understand. Each language comes with a special program that translates what we write into binary code. Oh, the marvels of technology!
Why should you equip your kids with this skill of coding then? Simply put, we live in the digital age and no matter what your child’s future career path is, coding could come in handy. It is all the more an essential skill should your child already be exhibiting traits of a potential entrepreneur as any tech startup would require basic knowledge of computer programming. Once your child has mastered coding, he is all set to create his own website or to consider a possible career as a computer programmer or a business owner! It is a skill that is most definitely not going to become obsolete anytime soon. So how does one get started on learning how to code?
There are several technological institutions here in Singapore which are offering progressive series of coding classes for our young ones. First Code Academy is one of them. It was founded with the mission to hone the digital literacy and computation thinking skills of children, empowering them to become inventors by harnessing technology. It puts together and runs programming courses tailored for children and teenagers in Singapore and Hong Kong. Its Business Expansion Manager, Kevon Cheung, shares that their ultimate goal is to enable kids to learn how to code on their own. This would be the key ability of a future software engineer. Kevon clarifies that contrary to popular belief, coding is not all about boring technicalities and being mathematically inclined. It actually offers lots of room for a child to put to use his sense of creativity as it trains both the left and right brain.
What can your children achieve by attending such programming courses? They can create their very own mobile applications! By mastering just two to three concepts of computer science, they can come up with the most basic of applications. Gaining competence in up to six concepts can allow them to create a game even! The progress of students is gauged by the complexity of the applications which they are able to develop. This requires the generation of multiple ideas on the part of the students, as well as tapping on their creativity to hone these ideas. Failure is highly encouraged at First Code Academy for it allows for children to develop their troubleshooting skills. “There are always multiple ways to solve a programming problem. If one way doesn’t work, we get them to try another method,” says Kevon.
Last year, two of First Code Academy’s students were invited to present at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) App Inventor Summit. Brandon Fong and Brian Siu came up with an application that allows you to customize your wardrobe very quickly on your smartphone in order to visualise your final appearance. It is known as “Outfitter” and you can view some snippets on its development process here. It is rather impressive what kids can achieve these days employing technology as a tool! Are such achievements restricted to a certain age group? Not at all. At First Code Academy, their youngest student is just six years old, while the oldest is sixteen! Coding is something which young minds tend to grasp very quickly. Contrary to popular notions that it is the boys who enjoy activities like video games and coding, the girls are also making their mark on the tech scene. Earlier in the year, a workshop titled “Girls Can Code” was run here in Singapore by First Code Academy. In typical mixed coding classes, the girls to boys ratio would be 1:4, resulting in the girls being intimidated by the boys. Hence, a coding workshop exclusively for girls was thought of and executed on March 8 2015, coinciding with International Women’s Day.
Interested in exposing your children to coding yet? Before you actually decide to enrol them in a coding course, perhaps you would like to check out some free online tools which serve as great introductions to the wonderful world of coding! Here are some to get you started.
Codecademy uses an interactive console, on which you input and execute codes on a browser, to introduce basic coding concepts like variables, loops and strings. The interactive facet of this website makes it a popular learning-by-doing platform for beginners who are looking for some quick introductions to the world of computer programming. However, learners may have to repeat the lessons several times in order to remember the syntax.
This online tool is somewhat similar to Codecademy and is endorsed by big wigs such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. It functions with a target audience as young as five years old! With a combination of video lectures and interactive consoles, the learning process is made into a fun game by including characters from popular games such as Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies. It provides the most fundamental of computer science knowledge, and thus may not be suitable for more advanced learners who are already familiar with Scratch and AppInventor.
3. Code School
Third and fourth images are courtesy of First Code Academy.