Why Code in the Community? Using Education and Technology to Change the World

It takes a village to make an impact – and in the case of Code in the Community, a whole-of-nation effort to create opportunities for every child to be a curious, self-motivated learner through digital literacy. As we roll out free coding classes for thousands of Singaporean kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, we’re teaming up with a powerhouse of friends across the private, public, and people sectors, and we can’t wait to see what impact we can achieve together.

Here’s a speech our founder, John, delivered at the recent launch of CITC. As we know – tech can exacerbate inequality; instead though, we choose to use it to bridge the gap. This is how and why we’re using education and technology to change the world for the better.


Way back in 2015, we ran our first free workshops for the community – and Google and IMDA were our earliest supporters. We ran workshops at Google’s SG50 Shophouse to celebrate Singapore’s 50th birthday, and every quarter Google would lend us a room in their Asia Square office to run a full day of free coding classes. The other thing we did was borrow IDA’s Lab on Wheel bus on the weekend, park it in a community centre, and run workshops on the bus. With Google and IMDA supporting the next 3 years of Code In The Community, it’s kind of nice that we’ve come full circle.

But more important than the what and the how is the why. Quality education for all is a UN Sustainable Development Goal. The ability to work with technology can be a great equalizer; yet it can also widen the gap between the haves and have nots. If you’ve ever taken a walk around San Francisco, or read any of the numerous articles about inequality in that city, you’ll see what I mean.

As Singapore becomes increasingly connected through technology, it is important that no one is excluded from the benefits and opportunities afforded by technology,  including the more vulnerable segments of society.

Our goal with Code in the Community is to provide the gift of coding classes to underserved, underprivileged kids – as they learn to code, they build their creative confidence and discover a world of possibilities for a brighter future. And beyond that, we want the experience to inform them that learning can be fun, and that there’s so much out there to learn. At the end of the day, it all goes back to our mission of inspiring every child to become a curious, self-directed learner. 

 

Over the past 3 years, one thing that’s always been top of mind at Saturday Kids is finding more opportunities for Code In The Community graduates. Just this past December, we worked with partners like REC Foundation, VEX Robotics, Google and ACSI to bring the VEX Robotics Kid-Powered workshop to 100 Code in the Community Python graduates.

11-year old Yi Kai is one of the youngest Code In The Community alums who attended the VEX Robotics workshop. When we caught up with him, he shared that he is now coding things he learnt in school, for instance a programme that would draw math factors. His attitude exemplifies the Saturday Kids spirit – one that is driven by curiosity and desire to learn. It is with this same spirit that 12 year old Rashid travelled from Punggol to Choa Chu Kang for Code In The Community classes because he moved halfway through the term, but didn’t want to miss classes.

Finding ad hoc opportunities for Code In The Community graduates to continue their learning only gets us so far. We know the number of students who want to continue learning coding far exceeds the number of opportunities we can find them. Therefore, with the support of Google and IMDA, we will be introducing Level 2 Applications classes in the next phase of Code In The Community, where graduates from Level 1 will get opportunities to build with code using Strawbees, Quirkbot & Micro:bit. With the Level 2 classes, past graduates can join Code In The Community 2.0,  build on their coding skills, and get started with robotics and engineering. 

 

Code in the Community also complements the government’s push towards a SmartNation on a national level. By 2022, we would have trained a pool of more than 1,500 skilled volunteers, in addition to the 1,000 we have already trained in the last 3 years. These volunteers would have experience teaching or assisting in digital literacy programmes, making them valuable resources in helping Singaporeans live better through technology. Already, our current pool of volunteers has delivered over 130 classes, positively impacting 2300 students. Our volunteers come from diverse backgrounds; we have  students, home-makers, tech professionals, financial planners, full-time teachers and librarians, and we’ve been seeing a consistent return volunteer rate of 25% over the last 3 years. One of these volunteers is Ming Han, who has volunteered over 160 hours, often teaching back to back classes, all while still doing National Service. There is also Si Hui, a volunteer who picked up Scratch just because she was interested in teaching and greatly identified with the cause of Code In The Community.

With Code In The Community 2.0 we are introducing a new Friends of Code In The Community initiative where past volunteers are invited to mentor new volunteers. We want to create a community for our volunteers, where they feel supported and appreciated. Beyond these committed individuals, we are also seeing organisations such as GovTech taking the lead in inculcating volunteerism as part of their corporate culture by encouraging their employees to volunteer. We also welcome 7 new partners: Cognizant, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE), ITE College Central, Nanyang Polytechnic, NTU Open Source Society, Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and Singapore Polytechnic – all of whom have committed to volunteering with Code In The Community in the coming years. It’s truly encouraging to see so many hands on deck as we work to give back to our community.  

In closing, I would like to share with you a Singapore success story. 3 young Singaporeans started Ninja Van 5 years ago because they saw how technology and engineering can modernise last mile logistics. I gave them some seed funding and lent them a van. Today Ninja Van delivers millions of parcels every month, employs close to 20,000 people in 6 countries, and is backed by the French government. The founders had to get many things right to get to where the business is today, but the starting point is their deep understanding of technology and their ability to build a tech product, even for an industry as old as logistics.

My hope for Code In The Community is to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs and makers. Singapore’s success is built on a professional class of bankers, lawyers, accountants. Both my parents were in finance. But for Singapore to continue to thrive, we cannot just be providers of professional services. Many of these white collar jobs in finance, law, even medicine will be automated. We need to become a country of builders and makers. A nation of people who build products for billions of users.

President Obama said this: “Life isn’t always fair. It distributes opportunities in different ways.” That’s true, and that’s something we hope Code In The Community will fix. He also said this, “Rejoice in the opportunity to change the world.”

More than anything else, I hope Code In The Community students take that line away with them, to rejoice in the opportunity to change the world. Because the world is facing unprecedented challenges – environmental, social, political. The world needs more mavericks. Singapore needs more mavericks. Code In The Community will inspire a generation of mavericks right here in Singapore. Because Singapore matters. 

. . .

Through Code in the Community, we run free, 8-week multi-level creative coding classes in Scratch and Python for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, ages 8-16. Classes are run at locations across the island, and are made possible with funding from Google and IMDA, and sponsorship from the National Library Board and other organisations.

To find out more about participating as a student or supporting the programme as a volunteer or partner, visit www.codeinthecommunity.com or shoot us an email at citc[at]saturdaykids.com.

Check out our previous posts about Code in the Community:

#CodeintheCommunity: When we teach kids how to code, what do they learn, really?

#CodeInTheCommunity: Meet (some of) our Superstar Volunteer Instructors

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