Jun 13, 2013

    Tech classes for kids: Boon or bane?

    SCHOOL'S out for the June holidays, but parents of some five- to 12-year-olds are enrolling their children in courses that teach them skills that go beyond what they learn in the classroom.

    The latest courses use various forms of technology, and claim to teach kids everything from analytical skills to design.

    The Pragmatic Lab, for instance, is offering a workshop, Minecraft Madness: Unleash The Creator In You, from Monday for the first time.

    The three-day workshop, costing $450, will utilise a video game, Minecraft, to hone mathematical, creative and analytical skills in six- to 12-year-olds.

    The Pragmatic Lab's founder, 21-year-old Sidwyn Koh, first began running courses that taught adults how to develop apps for smartphones. He found that kids as young as seven were being enrolled.

    "The idea of this course is to teach kids that Minecraft can be more than a game," he said of the new course. "It can be a workspace for them to freely sketch out ideas" that could lead to them learning how to construct and build structures, he added.

    The course has been met with "quite a bit of interest from parents", said a spokesman.

    Some are unconvinced that young children can benefit from such courses.

    Mr Edmund Tay, 40, who blogs about fatherhood, sent his eight-year-old daughter for a programming and coding class late last year.

    But while Mr Tay felt that it was "good exposure" to such tech skills, he said that his daughter has since forgotten them.

    Experts are divided on the issue. Dr Carol Balhetchet, director of youth services at the Singapore Children's Society, said she felt that five-year-olds, especially, may not be "mentally ready to take on such programmes".

    Early-childhood expert Noel Chia Kok Hwee, who is an assistant professor at the National Institute of Education, had a different view. He noted that Scratch, a visual programming toolkit, is used by children as young as eight.

    It teaches them "how to break down problems into something they can understand and solve", he said. "Such skills are important in inculcating a new way of looking at the world," he added., which has been around since 2011, is another place that offers creative enrichment courses.

    Chatsworth International School pupil Arthur Middleton, 10, attended its Art Inventor 101 course earlier this year where he learnt the basics of programming by creating music and animated clips.

    His mother, Mrs Deb Middleton, told My Paper that Arthur really enjoyed the programme, pitched at kids aged nine to 12.

    She said: "It really opened him up to the possibilities of using technology outside of school."