In this edition of Groundup Features, we speak to Shreya and Wai Mun from Code in The Community and find out how they use coding classes to nurture and empower youths in Singapore.
1. Hi Wai Mun and Shreya, thanks for joining us today! Please share with us more about yourself!
Wai Mun: I’m Wai Mun and I’ve been working full-time for about 20 years, in an IT department. I started volunteering with Code in The Community last year.
Shreya: My name is Shreya and I’m part of the team that manages Code in The Community!
2. Please tell us more about what Code in The Community does!
Shreya: We started in 2017 and we were sponsored by Google in the first three years, to bring coding classes to underprivileged kids in Singapore. These classes are completely free-of-charge for them and all equipment is provided for. This year, the program has been renewed for another three years, with joint support from Google and IMDA.
We work with the 4 self-help groups and other community partners such as the Social Service Offices and Family Service Centres, and the Ministry of Education’s UPLIFT office, to offer these classes to kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Primary School kids learn Scratch while Secondary School kids learn Python; the aim of the program is not so much focused on getting kids to become software engineers or programmers but to show kids from this demographic that they can do anything they want to do, if they put their minds to it. We want to provide the opportunity for them to discover this for themselves.
We also want to inculcate the soft skills, things like confidence in themselves, in their ability and pride in their work and presentation. So, the whole idea behind Code in The Community is to make digital literacy and opportunities available to kids from these backgrounds.
The curriculum is done up by Saturday Kids, but all teaching is done by volunteers, like Wai Mun. We have a lot of passionate volunteers from all walks of life and the one thing they all have in common, is that they believe in the cause and are passionate about children and tech.
Wai Mun: I’d also like to add on that coding tends to have a barrier to entry and by giving these kids an opportunity to be hands on and have access to equipment, this helps them to have the confidence to say that coding is something they have done and succeeded in before.
3. So, it seems that Code in The Community is trying to build the confidence of kids and coding is the medium of doing that!
Shreya: Absolutely. We’re really focusing on the process and the journey that every child takes, as they go through the program with us.
Wai Mun: I think as a result of this, if they find out that coding is something they really like, this becomes an opportunity for them to further develop and discover a possible future career choice.
4. How has it been for Code in The Community during this COVID-19 pandemic?
Shreya: We have had to go online but the kids prefer offline classes as they may not have the necessary equipment to support online classes. So, the kids are just waiting and wondering when we will go back to offline classes. Despite that, there are still many kids who have joined us for classes and the feedback has been very heartwarming. We have been hearing from both parents and kids who are grateful that the program is around.
Wai Mun: I think as Shreya has mentioned, the biggest challenge we face in class are technical issues such as the kids having poor connection or their computer having memory issues. However, the actual lesson itself works perfectly as software engineers are envisioned to be working more frequently from home, in the future. The kids are able to share their screens and we can look at their code to debug for them. Planning what they do and the next steps they should take, is very similar to what we do as part of work.
As for differences between offline and online classes - we used to have larger classes, with one main instructor and around four to five assistant instructors. Each instructor is tagged to a group of five students. Now, our online classes are broken down into smaller classes of one main instructor to four students.
5. What keeps you going as a volunteer, working with the kids?
Wai Mun: At the end of the day, when the kids come out with the little program that they wrote, they are very happy. Of course, that sense of having taught something helps me to sign up for the next run each time.
I think that this is something that I am familiar with, so if I can contribute in this area, why not?
6. Was there a specific high point in your volunteer journey at Code in The Community?
Wai Mun: I think most recently, the day after teacher’s day, the kids made signs with a Teacher’s Day card. I have never had that experience before. When the kids thank me and ask me if I will be teaching them for the next level, that helps me believe that I have contributed and made a change.
7. What challenges did you encounter as a volunteer?
Wai Mun: At times, there may be kids who are not fully engaged or playing, whether offline or online classes. When we had classes in the Community Centres, some of the kids will also have fun, rolling around on the chairs with wheels. These experiences really make us appreciate teachers more!
8. Any advice for individuals who are keen to volunteer but are not sure where to start?
Shreya: If you are passionate about working with kids and you’re inspired to make a difference, just pick up the basics of the programs and we’ll provide the curriculum and training. We do also offer a basic intro to scratch programming for volunteers who have no tech background but wish to volunteer. Don’t be scared if you don’t know how to code. If 8 year olds can do it, so can we!
Wai Mun: If you already have the skillset and find that the work is meaningful and something you believe in, do spend some time to contribute. Give in the way you already can.
9. What about a piece of advice to your younger self?
Wai Mun: Take the step earlier to start volunteering. Once you start, you don’t ever want to stop!
10. Lastly, how do you hope Code in The Community builds a city of good?
Wai Mun: I think it is important that everyone is given the opportunity to try coding, especially in this society where computers and software are important. We don’t want them to miss out just because they don’t have or can’t afford the computers or lessons. We hope to give the coding experience to as many kids as possible, so that they do not feel like they are lagging behind in this area.
11. BONUS! A cheeky question from us. Are you a coffee or tea person?
Wai Mun: Coffee!
Shreya: I’m so “Coffee” at this point. My entire team knows. They don’t talk to me until I have had my morning coffee haha!