Two coding schools aim to widen access

Children with special needs and those from less well-to-do families are getting more opportunities to learn how to code.

At least two coding schools are offering free or subsidised classes in a bid to make sure these children are not left out of the nationwide push to learn coding.

Coding school Computhink started giving subsidised classes at the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN) Tanglin School this month. The classes are being held once a week for five weeks, for three classes of about 20 students each. Computhink gave the school a 50 per cent discount on its usual rates.

Principal trainer David Lee started coaching children at a private autism early intervention centre last year. "The feedback was good," said Mr Lee, adding that Computhink's collaboration with APSN grew out of that work.

While "a different level of patience and understanding" is needed to teach and communicate with the children, Mr Lee is confident this will pay off. "This could be a possible career choice for some of these kids... We're hoping to build a curriculum that can be beneficial to these kids in their future," he added.

Computhink worked closely with the APSN school to craft classes in line with the school's own curriculum. For example, one of the topics the school is teaching involves "recognising coins and money and calculating how much to pay for (things), so we customised new coding projects which help the kids recognise coins," said Mr Lee.

Another coding school, Saturday Kids, is also ramping up efforts to reach out to children who might not otherwise have access to coding classes.

The school is calling for donations from companies and individuals to sponsor classes for children from lower-income households.

Classes at Saturday Kids start at $350 for an introductory 10-hour course in Scratch, a programming language. The rate for sponsoring lower-income children is $150.

The first of these classes will likely take place in October, said chief executive John Tan.

Saturday Kids is also working with the community centres and the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC) to conduct classes targeted at low income families in their district. 

Next week, the school will start running programming workshops for children whose mothers are beneficiaries of local charity Daughters of Tomorrow (DOT), which provides training and coaching for underprivileged women.

It has also started a 'pay it forward' initiative, which encourages parents to pay an additional $50 when signing their children up for classes. The money will go towards a spot for an underprivileged child in the same class.

These are part of efforts "to fulfil our social mission of helping disadvantaged kids get access to digital literacy courses", said Mr Tan.

Saturday Kids has taught over 2,000 children since it was founded four years ago. Mr Tan is aiming to reach 200,000 children over the next four years - including those whose families are unable to afford the school's regular fees.

"There are kids in Singapore who don't have the chance to broaden their horizons with programming, electronics and design thinking courses... simply because their parents don't have the financial resources or exposure to the benefits," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2016, with the headline 'Two coding schools aim to widen access'. Print Edition | Subscribe