Schools moving into high-tech gear

(From left) Radin Mas Primary School pupils Keison Tan, Zachary Wah, Thea Huan, Tan Rui Yang and Mohamad Hafeez with their models from a 3-D printing workshop. Schools are introducing cutting-edge technology to equip pupils with 21st century skills.
(From left) Radin Mas Primary School pupils Keison Tan, Zachary Wah, Thea Huan, Tan Rui Yang and Mohamad Hafeez with their models from a 3-D printing workshop. Schools are introducing cutting-edge technology to equip pupils with 21st century skills. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Kids as young as nine learn 3-D modelling, app development, programming

Some learn computer programming while others apply cutting-edge techniques such as 3-D printing.

Not bad, considering they are all just schoolchildren.

Welcome to the increasingly advanced world of IT lessons, as schools introduce hot new technologies to prepare young people for a tech-heavy future.

Children themselves are also growing more interested as the subject sheds its image as a geeky pursuit for bespectacled nerds.

"Apple's co-founder Steve Jobs inspired me," said Dunman High student Alvin Tan, 15.

The lessons aim to nurture 21st century skills, such 3-D printing which involves producing a physical model of the object.

At Radin Mas Primary, nine-year-old Thea Huan came up with a design for a wheelchair, before printing it off. "It's so exciting to see your design come to life," she said.

The Primary 3 pupil used Google Sketchup Pro8 to draw the chair - which has robotic arms to help the elderly - during a 3-D printing workshop for several schools in the South. "I continue designing 3-D models at home," she said. "I hope I can print them with my very own 3-D printer one day."

The technique helps students to develop their ideas when they turn mere models into reality, said Raffles Institution teacher Yeo Puay Hong, who uses it in his design thinking classes.

"It also saves students the hassle of cutting pieces with intricate measurements, " he added.

Nan Chiau High and Greenview Secondary have also introduced some of their students to 3-D printing.

Over at Ngee Ann Secondary, children have been working on a mobile application that improves productivity in school.

"By starting them young, we want to open new career pathways in tech," said head of IT Yeo Zhong Wei. "They can be game designers, even technopreneurs."

Hwa Chong Institution also organises app programming courses for teenagers. Some of them went on to develop useful ideas such as a messaging board that keeps students and teachers in touch.

"Students used to see programming as an esoteric pursuit," said Mr Joseph Tan, who teaches IT at the school. "But now, we use a mobile phone every day."

Dunman High has gone a step further, exposing students to Python - the programming language behind YouTube and Dropbox.

"We want to keep our IT curriculum up to date with programming languages in the industry," said head of IT Yeo Meng Han.

He added that about 800 children at the school are taught basic Python skills. "We hope to empower students to create their own programmes, instead of merely consuming ready-made ones."

Singapore's IT education has been thrust into the spotlight as the nation tries to boost manpower in the technology sector. In 2011, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) announced a multi-million dollar manpower development road map to nurture talent.

So far, about 1,500 students have been taught advanced computing concepts through its school programmes.

Meanwhile, technology appears to have become sexier. A recent IDA survey showed 71 per cent of Infocomm Club members saw their co-curricular activity as popular among peers, up from only 51 per cent in 2011.

The authority put the changing image of IT down to the growing prominence of technology in our daily lives and success stories such as Facebook's multi-billion dollar stock market launch.

But for Dunman High student Alvin, the late Steve Jobs was still the biggest inspiration. "He is a charismatic leader who opened up the smartphone and tablet market... I want to be like him."

kashc@sph.com.sg