500 kids pick up coding skills under Google programme

Keeret Singh Sandhu, 13, Celeste Low, 15, and Matthew Chua, 10, demonstrating their coding ability at the Google office in Pasir Panjang yesterday after completing a 10-week module.
Keeret Singh Sandhu, 13, Celeste Low, 15, and Matthew Chua, 10, demonstrating their coding ability at the Google office in Pasir Panjang yesterday after completing a 10-week module.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

After attending a 10-week coding course, 15-year-old Celeste Low is one step closer to her dream job.

With the help of instructors from Google's Code in the Community programme, the Secondary 3 School of Science and Technology student developed from scratch a program that can encrypt messages so that they are unreadable to prying eyes.

"This course is one of the starting steps of my future career. It taught me the basics so now I know where to start," said Celeste, who wants to be a white hat hacker so that she can help protect Singapore's national secrets.

She is one of about 500 children aged eight to 15 who have completed the first half of a 20-week coding programme funded by Google. The initiative is targeted at children from less privileged backgrounds, and is conducted in partnership with coding schools Saturday Kids and 2IC Girls, and the four self-help groups - the Chinese Development Assistance Council, Eurasian Association, Singapore Indian Development Association (Sinda) and Yayasan Mendaki.

Another student, 13-year-old Keeret Singh Sandhu, who is in Secondary 2, developed a program that can authenticate NRIC numbers, while other student projects included computer games and programs that control the movement of race cars on a track.

"There's no limitation to what you can do with coding skills," said the Montfort Secondary School student, who hopes to be a developer at Google one day.

Such courses are important as children should pick up coding skills in the context of play, Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law Indranee Rajah told reporters yesterday, after she saw demonstrations of student projects at the Google Asia- Pacific office in Pasir Panjang.

"Coding is something you want them to acquire naturally. They must associate it with fun, creati- vity, so that it just becomes an inherent part of their day-to-day life," said Ms Indranee, who is also president of the Sinda executive committee.

And while coding is a practical skill, along the way, children also pick up logic and critical thinking skills, noted Google's director of people operations D.N. Prasad.

Over three years, Google aims to reach out to 3,000 young people, and it plans to expand to schools in the next two years.

Keeret's father, Mr Sukhbir Singh, 53, who is in sales, said he hopes the course will help his son understand an increasingly virtual world. "At this age, you want them to remain inquisitive, and if it allows that, I encourage it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 21, 2017, with the headline '500 kids pick up coding skills under Google programme'. Print Edition | Subscribe