Coding for Children

How a team of Enactus NUS students impart IT Skills to less privileged kids

Learning coding skills has the ability to enhance a child’s problem solving skills, improve cognitive development, and promote self-directed learning. Mitchel Resnick, a MIT professor who developed Scratch, a well-known programming language for children, said, “Coding is the new literacy. To thrive in tomorrow’s society, young people must learn to design, create and express themselves with digital technologies.”

Unfortunately, such classes tend to be unaffordable to children from less privileged backgrounds. Coding for Children (C4C), a project by Enactus NUS, plugs this gap by providing them with equal opportunities to learn coding skills through free high-quality lessons in the coding programme Scratch.

Currently operating at Ulu Pandan Stars, the initiative has benefited more than 50 students between the ages of 8 and 12 from different neighbourhoods, including Serangoon, Dover, and Clementi. At the recent Hackathon@SG 2015 organised by IDA in July, a team of students from Ulu Pandan Stars competed with 92 teams to clinch second prize in the Junior category. The two students, Gillian and Audrey, had only started learning how to code four months earlier! With the guidance of student tutors from C4C, they persevered and managed to complete their animation within two months. Their winning project, Penguin Car (https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/80598268/), is an animation of fantasy mobility with a futuristic car that moves through air, land and water, illustrating how transportation problems can be solved in the future.

Beyond success in competitions, making a genuine difference to the lives of students has been most rewarding for the C4C team. Now, most of their students have greater confidence in their problem solving abilities and can apply the skills learnt to other aspects of their lives.

Jing Ying, a C4C student in Primary 6, remarked, “I learnt that I should never give up so that I could focus and solve the problem.”

Parents have also related that their children now show greater interest and better concentration in their work.

The mother of Huijie, C4C’s youngest student in Primary 2, shared, “The best thing is that Huijie has no problem doing her online homework since she attended the coding classes.”

Mrs Hauw Soo Hoon, who sits on the Enactus Singapore board and is the person-in-charge at Ulu Pandan Stars, commented, “Our Stars students started in March 2015, not knowing what they had signed up for. During the course, they had fun learning Scratch and being exposed to world of IT through video screening. Our Stars students also went to a Tech Fair. 90% of them signed up for Scratch 2.0 which started in October. This showed their continuing enthusiasm. Dr Bimlesh, NUS School of Computing lecturer and C4C advisor, and I were thrilled when we could enroll 4 teams to participate in Hackathon@SG. This was truly equal opportunity at work! Without C4C, our children could not have learnt Scratch and acquired the coding skills to enter such a competition. Getting Second prize by the Penguin Car team gave a super boost to the students that they are as talented as other students, given the opportunity.”

Mrs Hauw added, “The C4C team has developed a strong C4C model, successfully implemented it at Serangoon North Youth centre, and is ready to replicate to other Centres, including schools.”

Isaac, a C4C student, quipped, “I like C4C because I feel proud of myself when I make a cool code.”

The team members from C4C have also benefited immensely from this experience. They have cultivated patience while teaching their young students, and have enlarged their sense of empathy while appreciating their students’ circumstances.

Zachary Mano, President of NUS Enactus said, “The classes have given us valuable insight into working with children. Most of these children come from challenging backgrounds. It takes patience, perseverance, and sensitivity to mentor the children effectively”.

The C4C team aims to extend the impact of the programme to students beyond the two existing centres. By 2018, they target to have held classes at 25 locations for 930 students. At the same time, they are working hard to enhance the curriculum and teaching methods based on feedback received from parents and students. To achieve this, they will require passionate volunteers as youth tutors, as well as partners that can bring C4C classes into classrooms.

Interested parties that wish to make a difference to the lives of the children, either as volunteers, sponsors/donors, venue partners, or in other ways, may contact the team at codingforchildren@gmail.com.

More information can also be found at the following links: If you want to offer your facilities to conduct C4C lessons: http://ge.tt/7EWp7ZQ2/v/0?c

If you want to bring C4C’s coding lessons to your students: http://ge.tt/7HuO8ZQ2/v/0?c

If you want to volunteer at C4C’s classes: http://ge.tt/72Kh8ZQ2/v/0?c