Crack the code to empowering youth through Code@SG

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How do you decide if you should cross a road without traffic lights? You would likely consider the distance you would need to cover, the speed at which you walk, and whether there are any oncoming cars. You might have even thought about previous experiences and outcomes before deciding to cross.

This process of decision-making—done consciously or otherwise—is an example of computational thinking, Gary Chua, a teacher at Rulang Primary School (RLPS), explains.  

Entering the digital world with Code@SG

To help students appreciate computational thinking and emerging technologies, and be excited about the possibilities and opportunities brought about by tech, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) launched Code@SG.

The aim is to build a foundation of computational thinking skills and offer students exclusive hands-on industry experiences and avenues to pick up emerging tech skills such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.Introduction to these skills can start as early as primary school through the Code for Fun Enrichment programme. This is jointly offered by IMDA and the Ministry of Education (MOE) to both MOE primary and secondary schools and is an opportunity for students to learn about computational thinking, coding and digital making.

Gary, who oversees the implementation of the Code for Fun programme at Rulang Primary, believes that there are many benefits of picking up these skills early. “Computational thinking refers to a set of problem-solving skills that emulates the computer’s way of solving problems,” he explains. “It’s about recognising a problem, breaking that problem into chunks, looking for patterns, focusing on the root of the problem and then developing the steps to solve it.”

Thus, computational thinking is a suitable framework for problem-solving across all facets of life, and not just in the world of coding and computing.

So, how does Code@SG crack the code to get youth interested in these relevant skills?

#1 Programme lessons to be fun and accessible

It starts from addressing any fear that the students may have. After all, the term computational thinking can be intimidating simply because it sounds like a “big word”, Gary shares.

“But when we understand the process, it’s actually very simple and when we break down the steps, students realise they’ve seen parts of it before,” he adds.

Students from Rulang Primary using Stick 'Em, a STEM assembly kit, to build robots with chopsticks to build robots. This helps them understand design-thinking concepts and exercise creative problem solving in a simple and fun way.

When Code For Fun is run at Rulang Primary , students are introduced to computational thinking by proposing the steps to make chicken rice, Gary shares. As the class runs through the instructions, they begin to see what makes sense and what doesn’t, gradually refining their steps in a logical fashion—and in doing so, demonstrating computational thought.

Code for Fun also addresses the stereotype of coding being boring or being hard to understand. Wong Ruting, who oversees the Applied Learning Programme at Jurongville Secondary School (JVSS)’s adds.

For example, using a block-based coding tool, micro:bit, students are given a chance to develop simple icons that appear on a display screen, and to decide on what sounds will play when a button is pressed.

As the block-based tools are simple to understand, and the tasks allow for individuals to exercise their creativity, students are more likely to be interested, and can see that coding is far less intimidating than they think, Ruting observes.

#2 Build into the bigger picture will this be more appropriate: “Relevance in daily life?”

Code@SG also helps students see the relevance of coding in their daily lives.

For example, noting that students may struggle with schoolwork, at Yishun Town Secondary School (YTSS) members of the Infocomm Media Club worked on a project to develop an AI study buddy to help their peers manage their study schedules better—and in doing so, learnt how coding can be used to solve a specific problem.

To give students a taste of how coding can solve real-world problems, Jurongville Secondary students also tried their hand at developing sensors for landslides and alarms for forest fires.

Ruting describes it as an all-rounded experience that combined lessons about coding with design-thinking and real world issues—ultimately demonstrating how her students’ computing skills, coupled with research and understanding of the user experience can come together to tackle real-life issues.

To help students see the relevance of coding in solving real-world problems, Mr Stanley Tan from Jurongville Secondary School guides them through the process of using LEGO kids to develop sensors for natural disasters like landslides.

#3 Provide opportunities for ownership and achievement

In 2021, Yishun Town Secondary’s Infocomm Media Club students  participated in the inaugural Intel® AI Global Impact Festival 2021. Their AI study buddy project was crowned as one of the winners for the AI Impact Enthusiasts Category, and another project involving a marine trash solution won the AI Impact Creator Category for Singapore, alongside 7 other countries such as Japan and South Korea

“The victory certainly brought the Infocomm Club the much-needed boost of positivity,” Rommel Chua, Infocomm Media Club teacher-in-charge at Yishun Town Secondary shares. These accomplishments, he adds, can generate interest by giving students a sense of pride.

Jurongville Secondary School students pick up coding skills through bite-sized, manageable activities like how to code a flickering flame. Activities like this foster a sense of accomplishment and can develop interest in coding.

Even outside of competitions, small successes go a long way in increasing the confidence of youth and encouraging them to continue coding, Ruting chimes in.

Noting that students enjoy seeing a “cause and effect”, she and her team ensure students are given small and manageable challenges where they can directly apply their coding skills.

“What we’ve noticed is that they are engaged and excited when they see their codes actually work,” she explains.

It also helps to give students autonomy, Rommel says. To do this, students are given a choice on what projects they want to pursue. Although teachers offer guidance, students remain the primary drivers of each project.

“When we allow students to decide what they wish to learn, we ensure they learn with passion. And with ownership in learning and pride in the club, students then have a strong purpose to take their learning further,” he declares.

#4 Provide age-appropriate avenues for growth

It is also important to be able to cater to the different learning abilities and interests of students.

At Rulang Primary, the children are introduced to coding in the context of playing with robots.

“The excitement of handling the robots make kids interested and want to do more,” Gary observes. “The fact that they could see the robots move on their command made them really excited, and from there, we were able to teach them the basics of how it worked.”

Learning coding by playing with Sphero BOLT, an app-enabled robot), adds an element of entertainment. This is suitable for helping young students at Rulang Primary stay engaged and interested in the topic.

Older students, on the other hand, are capable of taking on more challenging tasks. Thus, at Jurongville Secondary, when students developed sensors for landslides and alarms for forest fires, they were only given guiding questions to research and had to develop possible solutions themselves, Ruting shares.

“They then further developed, coded and tested, did some rough sketches on how their prototype would look like and quick prototyping using LEGOs, before finally conducting their refinement and final testing,” she recalls. It was a longer and more detailed process, but one that offered a suitable challenge for the students’ skills.

Students with a deeper interest in coding can participate in initiatives like the IMDA X Intel AI for Youth training programme, offered through the Infocomm Media Clubs CCA. This was a chance Rommel took to enhance his students understanding and appreciation of AI and machine learning with perspectives he would not have gained from simply reading a textbook.

With tech talent—especially data scientists, engineers and developers—in high demand, knowledge gained from programmes like this put students in good stead to take on the future job market. Testament to this, Rommel shared that at Yishun Town Secondary, “the exposure through IMDA X Intel AI for Youth has allowed students to appreciate technology better and helped build interest for them to pursue tech-related opportunities in the future”.

#5 Draw emphasis to the human experience

In fact, he observed that beyond improving a student’s digital skills, the Code@SG programmes also offer an abundance of opportunities to pick up soft skills like resilience, teamwork and communication,  all of which are transferrable across their lives.

During the IMDA X Intel AI for Youth training programme, for example, Yishun Town Secondary seniors were given the opportunity to conduct some segments of the training and explain the coding examples used.

 “This built their leadership skills and set a good example to other students to show that it is possible for anyone to be an expert.”

Echoing these sentiments, Gary adds: “there are many values that students can learn about persevering, generating possibilities and helping each other.

In his experience, it is most important to focus on letting children enjoy learning without worrying if they are right or wrong.

“When students are hooked on the fun and have the interest, then the scaling up of difficulty levels won’t stop them from wanting to learn more,” he recommends.

For parents hoping to deepen their child’s interest in coding, Gary’s advice is : Do it together! It can be as simple as getting your child to guess a number, or refer to resources like CS Unplugged that provide ideas for simple activities using cards, string, crayons and other items you can find at home. For more advanced coding activities, there are also free websites that teach the skills in a gamified way to help your child pick up computational thinking skills

Ultimately, Gary says, “Learning together as a family will be a great opportunity for your child to learn and bond with you as well. Also, make mistakes together and don’t worry about not getting all the steps right all the time. It is important to enjoy the process and create great memories with your children.”

So what are you waiting for? Find out more about the variety of Code@SG programmes—from Code for Fun to industry-led accelerators and bootcamps with tech giants like Apple, Intel and Amazon, and see how these can help your child unlock their potential for our digital future.