Kids get up to Scratch in programming
HE IS just seven years old but he has already created his own computer games.
Benedict Lai, a Primary 1 pupil at St Joseph's Institution Junior, spent 10 hours over four days of his year-end break delving into the complexities of computer programming.
What he can create on a computer screen with a few mouse clicks and strokes on the keyboard is more than what many people much older than him can achieve.
With his coding skills, he can create a basic video game, a 35-second animation or multiple-choice computer quizzes.
He learnt how to do this at the Game Programming Bootcamp run by The Kid Coders, an initiative that offers coding classes to children aged between six and 16.
"Miss Juliana (the programming teacher) taught me how to create a car game when I was in her class," Benedict said.
With a sheepish giggle, he added: "I also created a cat cartoon. It's called The Crazy Cat because it shrinks until it disappears, before it appears again."
His nine-year-old sister, Seraphine, also attended the course.
She said: "The programming class was fun. It was really interesting and challenging at the same time."
Seraphine, who was recently accepted into the Gifted Education Programme, added: "I also created a car game that involves collecting points as the vehicle moves along."
Benedict and his sister are just two of millions of youngsters worldwide who are learning to program interactive stories, games and animations using the free programming language Scratch.
Launched in 2006 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, Scratch has become the standard tool for teaching coding in more than 150 countries.
Benedict and Seraphine's mother, Mrs Lai, a tech marketer in her 40s, said she sent her children to the class because she did not want them to "waste time at home".
She said: "If I left Benedict on his own, he probably would spend hours on his favourite game, Minecraft. He has an obsession with it, so I sent him for classes. I would rather he learn to be a creator instead of just a consumer of technology."
Mrs Lai's decision has come at the perfect time. As part of the Smart Nation vision for Singapore, the Ministry of Education is encouraging schools to join the Code for Fun enrichment scheme next year. It, too, will be using Scratch.
The Lai children's programming teacher, Juliana Ung, 29, the sole proprietor of The Kid Coders, said of her students: "In boot camp class, they dive into learning to create a game from the get-go. That includes creating their hero, making it pick up fruit and allowing the player to accumulate points."
Miss Ung added that her course teaches students to think like creators.
The Kid Coders also offers a course teaching teens the ropes to the more widely used IT languages, such as HTML or Hypertext Markup Language.
Benedict and Seraphine hope to attend more courses during the remainder of their school holidays.
Seraphine said she knows that having programming knowledge will help her when she enters the working world, "especially when putting together presentations".
Benedict has other plans. With conviction in his voice, he said: "When I grow up, I'm going to be a Minecraft programmer."
THE NEW PAPER