Vitakids speaks with Foo Yong Ning, Founder and CEO of Coding Lab, a coding school that runs classes for ages 4-16 in Australia, Japan and Singapore.
Previously a Regional Director at a Fortune 500 Multinational, Yong Ning, a Master’s Degree holder from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), left his high-flying job in the corporate world to pursue his passion to found a school that teaches children coding and computational thinking.
Tell us more about yourself.
I graduated with a Masters in Computation for Design and Optimisation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) under a scholarship and spent a year working in a technology startup in Silicon Valley, before returning to Singapore, where I was born and grew up in. I enjoy Mathematics and Programming, and in my previous job, I was the Regional Director of a US MNC, responsible for ensuring optimal supply of products through business process optimization and application of data analytics to ensure sound business decisions.
What inspired you to start Coding Lab?
I first started coding in University and loved it so much that I pursued a Masters in Computational Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). As a father of two, I knew that technology was going to play a huge part in my kids’ lives. That got me thinking about introducing my favourite subject to them, in a fun way, to help them gain a better understanding of the games they play and the design behind their favourite toys. At the same time, I ran into difficulties at work, coaching a few members of my team on how they could automate some of the analytical work they were doing. I realised that if the team had known the fundamental concepts of coding, they would have been far better off. One morning on my way to work, I saw the video “Let’s teach kids to code” by Mitchel Resnick of MIT Media Lab. That’s when I started to think of how to encourage children to learn coding, and I started working on Coding Lab. Today, we are present in 3 countries, Australia, Japan and Singapore, with the mission of empowering our young to become tomorrows’ creators of technology.
Coding seems to be the buzzword nowdays. Could you explain what it means and how would learning to code be beneficial to a child, academically?
Coding is simply giving instructions to a computer to make it do what we want. When we teach children how to code, we are teaching them computational thinking – a skill that is valid for life.
Here are 3 key benefits of teaching a child to code:
1. Problem-Solving skills – Children love to play games and/ or watch cartoons. However, ask them to recreate their favourite game, and they may often be stumped by the immense complexity of it. By understanding how to create games that have levels, timers, and learning to shoot projectiles, they apply mathematical concepts such as angles, arithmetic and fractions intensively.
2. Computational Thinking, highly-regarded as the must-have 21st century skill in this digital age, empowers you to tackle problems by breaking them down into smaller parts (decomposition), and then arrive at a solution which can be easily and accurately executed by a computer (or another human). It is critical that children learn this powerful strategy in life. This helps your child to think logically and builds their confidence in problem-solving.
3. We have also often heard about Coding being the new literacy. Indeed, technology is so pervasive in our lives today. For example, we use apps such as WhatsApp to communicate or Grab to book transportation. Computer simulations are also used to perform aerodynamics testing of aircrafts even quantitative trading in Finance. In Singapore, 19 secondary schools already teach programming at the GCE O-Level, and six IP schools or junior colleges offer computing as an A-Level subject
At what age do you think children should start learning to code?
Our programmes start kids on coding at an age that they are ready for learning independently – 4 years old. Children from the age of 4 can listen to instructions and carry out tasks sequentially and independently. For example, a pre-schooler would tell us that they see something ahead. When asked where the item is, they would say: ”There!” and get frustrated when we fail to understand what they are pointing at. In our coding programme, for example, we run a class based on “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, by Eric Carle where the kids have to program the caterpillar to eat up the different types of food. In the first scene, where the caterpillar eats the apple, Instead of saying that I want the caterpillar to do “that”, they are taught to say “I want the caterpillar first move 3 steps to the right, followed by 10 steps upward, and then finally make the “Yum” sound when it has touched the apple”. This trains their Sequencing and logical thinking capabilities and builds up their foundation in Mathematics before they enter Primary School.
What are the key factors that parents should consider, when choosing a coding school for a child?
Parents nowadays are well-read and know a good school when they see one. Which is why at Coding Lab, we spare no expense in providing a quality computer-science education that meets the expectations of even the most discerning parents.
We train every single educator to embrace the Coding Lab® style of teaching; to ensure that students truly understand the fundamentals and principles behind what they are learning.
As a parent myself, I want the environment to be comfortable for computer work. It gets so comfortable sometimes that our students often jokingly refer to our school as a “Resort” (laughs). I’m happy that this plays a part in allowing them to focus and relax better whilst tacking difficult problems.
We hope to partner parents in empowering every child with a solid understanding of computational thinking, regardless of their future career.
To find out more about the programs Coding Lab offers, checkout: www.codinglab.com.sg
Facebook | Instagram: @CodingLabAsia +65 6528 2282 Australia | Japan | Singapore
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