Coding classes for kids in high demand

Children attending a coding class organised by Saturday Kids last June. Rising demand has led coding schools to provide regular weekly classes or workshops throughout the year rather than only during the holidays. Children are taught Scratch programm
Children attending a coding class organised by Saturday Kids last June. Rising demand has led coding schools to provide regular weekly classes or workshops throughout the year rather than only during the holidays. Children are taught Scratch programming, which is based on visuals and animation.ST FILE PHOTO

Parents see programming, computing skills as essential for future in a Smart Nation

Forget traditional enrichment classes to learn ballet or play the piano. More children are being sent for computational thinking and coding lessons as parents increasingly see the value in starting them early in a manpower-hungry industry.

Coding schools The Straits Times Digital spoke to said they have seen more parents signing their children up for such classes over the past three years, and that demand continues to grow steadily.

Miss Juliana Ung, who runs The Kid Coders, said: "Parents recognise that coding is useful and important, as the world and future will be driven by more and more computing technology. There is also the appreciation that technology helps children in school work. It's the latest education trend."

USEFUL SKILLS

Programming lessons train them in logic and clear thinking. It's a valuable skill that helps in everyday life and any industry that deals with computers.

IT PROJECT MANAGER NG CHEE WEE, who sent his two daughters for holiday coding classes last year.

  • Where children can go for computing lessons

  • SCHOOL OF FISH 
    ​(5-6 years old)

    School of Fish is an Android game app, available for free from the Google Play Store, designed by education firm Jules Ventures and aimed at pre-schoolers.

    Pupils have to guide a virtual buddy to a goal by selecting various commands, which teach them computational thinking by learning how to come up with a series of instructions.

    So far, the firm has partnered Elite Learning Kindergarten and two pre-schools under childcare firm Carpe Diem for a 26-week trial of the programme.

  • FIRST CODE ACADEMY 
    ​(6-14 years old) 
    Classes start from $105 per class for 10 classes; holiday workshops range from $600 to $980

    First Code Academy runs three programmes for different age groups. The Tinker class is for six- to eight-year-olds. It teaches them Scratch, a coding language in which pupils can drag and drop programming instructions presented in visual blocks instead of typing them out.

    The Explorer and Creator programmes are for those aged nine to 11 and 12 to 14 respectively. Both focus on app development and introduce children to coding languages like JavaScript and Python.

    The school also organises holiday workshops, where children are given a crash course in robotics or app development.

  • SATURDAY KIDS
    (6 - 14 years old)
    ​$350 for five lessons of Scratch or three lessons of littleBits

    Saturday Kids offers beginner, intermediate and advanced courses for Scratch programming, along with a robotic and design course using littleBits - modular, Lego-like electronic circuits.

  • COMPUTHINK
    (7-16 years old)
    ​Holiday workshops range from $280 to $360 for four classes of Scratch programming or App Inventor lessons

    Computhink offers workshops during the holiday season, where students get a crash course in programming through Scratch.

    It also teaches students how to design, build and program Android applications through App Inventor, which simplifies the coding process though visual, drag-and-drop building blocks.

  • THE KID CODERS
    (8-14 years old)
    ​Monthly classes from $300 to $600 ; workshops, $300 to $1,400

    Students learn how to code their own computer games through Scratch.

    An advanced course has students creating and coding their own modifications to the popular game Minecraft in JavaScript.

  • SG CODE CAMPUS
    (8-16 years old)
    ​$390 for two-day camps; $780 for six weekly lessons

    A relatively new player to the coding lesson scene, SG Code Campus, which opened this month, offers Scratch lessons to pupils in primary school.

    It will also offer classes in Python, one of the most widely-used programming languages, for secondary school students later this year.

    Parents who sign their children up for its upcoming March lessons can receive a 25 per cent discount on course fees. The school is also offering a free trial lesson for its Scratch lessons on March 14, 15, 19 and 20.

  • EARLY CODERS ACADEMY
    (13-17 years old)
    ​$2,000 for a 20-week course

    Another new player on the scene, Early Coders Academy, which started lessons last month, focuses on teaching Web HTML and JavaScript to teenagers.

    The school's 20-week course aims to train complete coding newbies into coders who can participate and hold their own in hackathons and coding competitions.

    Lester Hio

Mr David Lee, founder and principal trainer of Computhink, said more parents want their children to be better prepared for the future, especially one in which the Government has envisioned Singapore to be a Smart Nation, where technological skills will be highly sought after.

"There are many parents who understand the importance of programming and they want their children to be prepared for the future," he said.

IT project manager Ng Chee Wee is among those who subscribe to the view. The 43-year-old sent his two daughters, aged eight and 10, for holiday coding classes last year.

"Programming lessons train them in logic and clear thinking. It's a valuable skill that helps in everyday life and any industry that deals with computers; they don't necessarily have to become programmers to benefit from classes," he said.

And parents are willing to pay a premium for the skills coding lessons can impart. Classes can range from $300 to $500 per month for weekly classes, while workshops start from $280 and go up to $1,400.

The rising demand for coding lessons has led these schools, which previously offered workshops during the holidays, to provide either regular weekly classes or workshops throughout the year.

"Registrations have increased sixfold," said Miss Ung. "This year, parents are also committing to holiday workshops much earlier than in previous years, an indication that we'll be seeing more full houses in mid-year and end of the year."

For instance, coding school Saturday Kids was launched in 2013 with only two workshops during the June holidays for about 20 students.

Last June, the number rose to 90 students over nine workshops, and the centre now holds workshops in Scratch programming every month.

Scratch is a programming language based on visuals and animation, making it more accessible to children, unlike traditional languages that are lines and lines of code.

Singapore's demand for coding lessons has also attracted the attention of overseas schools, such as Hong Kong-based First Code Academy.

The centre used to provide coding workshops only during the holidays when it opened here last year, but has started to offer regular lessons due to the increased demand here after its workshops were regularly oversubscribed.

"More young parents think of coding as an essential life skill that prepares their children for the future and have come to terms with the fact that technology is here to stay," said founder Michelle Sun.

Many of the schools that cater to young children teach Scratch. But demand for lessons in more conventional coding languages, such as Python, JavaScript and Ruby, has also increased among older teenagers.

Early Coders Academy, which started in December, runs lessons for teens aged 13 to 17 years, with emphasis on coding competitions and hackathons.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2016, with the headline 'Coding classes for kids in high demand'. Print Edition | Subscribe