Part I: Introduction
As technology becomes more incorporated into our daily lives, an increasing number of children will become digital natives, i.e people who have grown up under the ubiquitous influence of the internet and other modern technologies. Therefore, students must have the necessary tools and abilities to succeed in such an environment. Since coding, which refers to the process of creating computer programmes to execute specific tasks, is the foundation of all contemporary technology, it has been identified as one of the most important skills that children need to learn. This led to the establishment of coding schools in Singapore, whose main goal is to teach children how to code and prepare them for a digital world. In addition, Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) also launched the Code For Fun (CFF) programme in 2014 which aims to instil computational thinking in primary school students through basic coding.
Moreover, learning to code not only enables students to be digitally ready but also opens up a wealth of opportunities. This includes gaining soft skills such as persistence and creativity, getting entry into good schools through the Direct School Admission (DSA) exercise, and increasing their future employability. Thus, this article will be a comprehensive overview of the benefits that children will gain from attending coding classes, particularly in terms of preparing them for their future.
Part II: Coding Resources For Kids
2.1. A Brief History of Programming
To properly understand why children should learn to code let’s take a look at its origins to see how it has evolved over the years, its numerous applications, how it has benefitted mankind and how it will continue to make our lives easier.
Mathematician Ada Lovelace is largely credited with creating the first computer programming language in 1843 - well before the invention of computers! It was an algorithm she devised to aid the computation of Bernoulli numbers for Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine (an early prototype of a mechanical computer). As she was the first to recognise that computers could do more than crunch numbers and could solve problems of infinite complexity, such as generating music, letters, and pictures, Lovelace's work is considered the cornerstone of modern programming.
In the 1940s and 1950s, when digital and scientific computers were developed, computer programming languages such as FORTRAN, LISP and COBOL were invented to help with mathematical, statistical, and business computing. COBOL, which stood for Common Business Oriented Language, was another huge milestone in programming as it was one of the earliest high-level programming languages designed for business systems and is the language behind ATMs, mobile and landline telephones, credit card processors, and traffic signals amongst others.
Since more industries are integrating technology into their operations, programming languages are still being invented and further refined to facilitate this development. That is why there are around 700 programming languages in the world today! The main purpose of programming has always been to improve and enhance people's lives. Consequently, even learning one programming language can open up a world of possibilities for a child.
2.2. 4 Reasons Why Kids Should Learn Programming
Many parents have the assumption that since programming is a complicated subject, their children should only learn it when they are in higher education. However, even children as young as six can enrol in a coding course as the classes are gamified so that they can learn coding in a fun and enjoyable setting. Moreover, learning programming at a young age imparts a lot more skills than just technical knowledge in the language. As such, here are 5 reasons why children should learn programming:
1. Develop computational thinking
Before learning how to programme, students will first be taught computational thinking, which is a process of breaking down a complex problem into much simpler steps and solutions so that a computer can carry them out precisely. Computational thinking involves 4 steps: decomposition (breaking down a big problem into smaller parts), pattern recognition (finding similarities between the different parts), abstraction (focusing on the important information), and algorithms (developing a step-by-step solution to the problem).
Consequently, this results in students developing their critical thinking abilities as computational thinking enables them to articulate problems, think logically, and analyse how certain actions might impact a given situation. Having these qualities will not only help them in their other subjects but also in their daily lives.
2. Build confidence
Since children will grow up with technology being a necessary part of their lives, learning to code will empower them to be active consumers who deeply understand how it works. Subsequently, they will be more comfortable with using technological solutions daily and even be able to contribute towards improving them. In addition, many coding schools also send their students to coding competitions, which helps them develop confidence in their abilities and their technical knowledge.
3. More job opportunities
Programming is a crucial skill set that will help children compete in a competitive job market as more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) professions open up. When kids strengthen their coding skills, they will have a wide range of professional opportunities, ranging from software developer to game designer. Even if they are not interested in STEM, having a basic understanding of coding can help children be more employable because most companies use technology for business operations, and employers will need employees who are familiar with and comfortable with it.
4. Explore their creativity
As programming can be highly technical, many people often think that programmers lack creativity. On the contrary, it can stimulate children’s creativity! As students are taught to look at problems from different angles, they are also encouraged to think out of the box and experiment with solutions to find the best one. This is particularly true for video game design, virtual reality, and mobile application development. Moreover, coding holiday programs create a fun and experiential learning environment where children can exercise their creative juices through coding.
2.3. Beginner-Friendly Coding Subjects for Kids
With so many programming languages out there, it might seem a little daunting to decide which language kids should learn. Fortunately, 2 beginner-friendly languages are taught in coding schools in Singapore that nurture a student’s understanding of coding progressively. They are scratch programming and Python.
Scratch programming is a block-based visual programming language developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab to teach children, between the ages of 8 and 16, how to code. The language derives its name from a disc jockey technique called “scratching” in which vinyl records are clipped together and manipulated on a turntable to produce various sound effects and music. In the same way, scratch programming allows students to combine various elements or code blocks (such as visuals, sound, and other applications) in innovative ways to create interactive games, animations, and simulations. Its drag and drop interface makes it one of the most intuitive programming languages and is ideal for children who are visual learners.
Python is the most beginner-friendly language for kids who wish to learn a textual programming language because it features an intuitive coding style, text-based commands that use succinct and clear English, built-in comments, and a multitude of internet resources. In essence, it is a language that closely resembles normal speech which enables students to pick up basics pretty quickly and translate their ideas into workable computer programmes. In comparison, other programming languages feature more complex syntax that might easily discourage students from learning it. In addition, Python is one of the most popular programming languages in the world and is used by many companies such as Google, Facebook, Netflix, and Spotify amongst others. Therefore, Python, with its emphasis on code readability, helps students to develop their coding skills, gain confidence in their abilities, and improve their job prospects.
Enrolling in a robotics class will benefit students who are tactile learners or who want to learn more about technology hardware. Robotics is an interdisciplinary subject that combines computer science with engineering to design mechanical devices to aid human activities. As such, it will challenge students to think critically about human problems and how they can design devices to resolve the issue. As robotics also uses scientific and mathematical concepts, students can see theory being put into practice and gain a deeper understanding of these subjects. In addition, advanced robotics often require programming, which in turn improves a student’s coding skills as they can see their computer programme being executed by a physical device.
Part III: How Coding Helps Kids Prepare for the Future
3.1. 5 Advantages of Sending Your Kid for Coding Competitions
A good way to nurture a child’s talent in programming is to send them for coding competitions and hackathons where they will put their skills to the test to quickly resolve challenges. Other benefits of coding competitions include:
1. Sharpen problem-solving skills
Coding competitions often require participants to solve progressively harder problems within a given time limit. This forces participants to think on their feet to come up with easy yet effective solutions in a short time. As a result, students’ problem-solving skills are sharpened and as they attend more competitions, they also become more comfortable facing challenging problems.
2. Strengthen fundamentals
Students usually progress to more advanced fields after learning the fundamentals of programming languages and thus devote less time to practising their basics. As many coding competitions and hackathons include problems that require using basic mathematical and computational skills to answer, it is a good method for students to brush up on their foundations and reinforce their understanding. This is critical because a solid foundation allows students to quickly learn new programming languages and remain adaptable as technology evolves.
3. Practise writing cleaner code
Writing clean code is an important skill for all programmers to acquire since it ensures better code readability and that it does not become clogged with too much logic or comments. This way, their code will be reasonably simple to debug, maintain, and extend. Making complex code understandable/uncomplicated requires a lot of practice, which students will get while preparing for their coding competitions. Furthermore, because students will be working under a time limit in a coding competition, it will further teach them how to eliminate unnecessary elements in order to make their code simple but effective.
4. Become comfortable with failure
Whether in a competition or in life, there will be times when children will be confronted with failure. Rather than it being an indication of their limited abilities, it shows just how important the process is. In programming, understanding the process is a crucial part of developing a strong technical ability and coding competitions are all about failing and trying again. With each new attempt, participants will have to experiment with new techniques and not give up until they have resolved the problem successfully. As a result, it not only makes children more comfortable with failure but also develops their determination and grit.
5. Provide an edge during the Direct School Admission (DSA) exercise
More secondary schools and junior colleges are allowing students to use their coding and computational thinking skills to gain direct entry into their schools through DSA. Subsequently, these schools will look at a student’s portfolio and level of exposure to determine their suitability. Therefore, participating in coding competitions will indicate that the student has a certain level of expertise in programming and the work they created during the competition can be added to their portfolio as well. As such, participating in coding competitions might give students an edge during the DSA Exercise. This will be covered more in-depth in the next section.
3.2. How Coding Helps In Direct School Admissions Exercise
The Direct School Admission exercise was launched in 2004 for studying primary 6 and secondary 4 students to be guaranteed a spot to their preferred secondary school or junior college respectively based on their talent in sports, Co-Curricular Activities, and specific academic subjects. This exercise was created to expand more opportunities for students with strong aptitudes in non-academic areas and provide them with a more flexible education that looked beyond grades.
In line with the government’s efforts to nurture a digitally literate nation, many schools have opened Robotics and coding programmes, and also allow students to use their coding skills for the DSA exercise. While the application process differs from school to school, examiners will typically look at the following criteria:
Student’s level of experience in programming languages
Student’s performance during an interview
Student’s performance during a selection test
Therefore, parents will need to send their children to a coding school that can adequately hone talent in coding and in turn, ensure an increase in their chances of acceptance through the DSA exercise. That’s why Roboto Academy developed the EPIC (Engaging & Progressive Information-Technology Curriculum) pedagogy, which aims to unlock each student’s potential through a fully personalised and highly structured approach to learning. As a result, the coding classes are based on fulfilling 3 core principles:
Computational thinking - in which Roboto’s Coding Coaches teaches students how to think and become better programmers through decomposition, pattern recognition, generation, and writing algorithms
Self-directed learning - In order to create independent and lifelong learners, Roboto’s interactive curriculum instils critical habits of self-reflection, curiosity, and inquiry. This is particularly beneficial during the interview and selection test stages of the DSA exercise as it shows that students are highly adaptable to change and can rise to a challenge.
Personalised - Roboto understands that kids learn at different speeds, which is why each student will receive a Personalised Curriculum Roadmap with modules organised and ordered by difficulty to meet each student's skill level. This allows pupils to develop their talent and gain confidence in their talents at their own speed.
Furthermore, students who enrol in Roboto's Genius Coder Program will receive a thorough and holistic education in a variety of programming languages, ranging from Scratch to C++. Since the first criteria that schools look at is a student's programming experience, this curriculum will provide them with the much-needed exposure and capabilities to go through the DSA exercises successfully.
3.3. Finding The Most Suitable Coding School For Your Kid
Now that the myriad benefits of coding have been discussed, parents might be itching to enrol their child in a coding school. However, with so many coding schools opening in Singapore, they might be unsure as to how to determine which one is suitable for their child. Besides having a strong and robust curriculum, there are a few other guidelines that parents can look out for to ensure that the coding school is adept in nurturing their child’s talent in coding. They are:
1. Variety of equipment and learning platforms
Programmers often use a variety of hardware and software when creating computer programmes as there are many different ways to solve the same problem. For example, while Python is a widely-used programming language for data analytics, some students might prefer using C++. In addition, students will have to be familiar with the hardware used to create computer programmes. As a result, a good coding school will have a variety of equipment that allows students to develop their strengths in both hardware and software platforms. This can be learning about programming basics with Scratch, electrical engineering concepts with Raspberry Pi, or using Unity to create virtual worlds.
Students will have a better understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of various frameworks for particular problems when they get a chance to practise on a variety of platforms. While students may specialise in their chosen programming discipline, allowing them to experiment with many platforms will improve their problem-solving skills. Furthermore, good coding schools will supply pupils with their own kits so that they can practice their coding knowledge without interruption.
2. Good track record
As it concerns a child’s education, it is always crucial to ensure that the coding school being chosen has an extensive track record of successful students and happy parents. This is usually done by checking the online reviews of the coding schools and asking friends and family for their opinions. When reading online reviews, it is good to see which aspects are mentioned as good and which ones are considered bad. That way, parents can gauge for themselves if they are qualities that they are interested in. Furthermore, a good coding school’s track record can also include the number of competitions their students have won, and if they have collaborated with other organisations to hold coding workshops and classes. This shows that the coding school’s curriculum is of a high calibre as their students are able to win competitions and other organisations trust the school’s teaching.
3. Capable teachers
As programming can be a complicated subject, it goes without saying that a good coding school will have a highly qualified team of educators who have knowledge of and experience in teaching a variety of programming languages. These teachers should have studied these languages at an undergraduate level and is a registered educator with Singapore’s Ministry of Education. A small student to teacher ratio is also something parents should consider as this means that teachers can pay special attention to their students and ensure that they are on the right track.
At the end of the day, the children are going to be the ones who will be attending the coding classes. Therefore, parents should also think about their child’s needs and whether their chosen coding school will be able to fulfil them.
With a digital future being inevitable, programming is likely to be just as important as learning languages, math and science. As such, enrolling your kid in a coding school will give them a head start and adequately prepare them for living in the digital age. Roboto Coding Academy is committed to shaping the next generation of technology changemakers through our specialised curriculum. Contact us today to learn more.