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One-week coding camps costing at least S$1,760 a hit among Singapore parents

SINGAPORE — At age six, while most of her peers were still getting acquainted with times tables, Apple Zhu received her dad’s old MacBook so that she can get a headstart in programming.

One-week coding camps costing at least S$1,760 a hit among Singapore parents

Mr Zhu Liliang, who is the chief technology officer of ZhongAn International, has sent his daughter Apple to two coding camps.

SINGAPORE — At age six, while most of her peers were still getting acquainted with times tables, Apple Zhu received her dad’s old MacBook so that she can get a headstart in programming.

On it, she learnt how to use block-based visual programming language Scratch to perform 10 actions with just one press of a button, as well as Java to build maps on three-dimensional computer game Minecraft.

Then she got extra help: Coding bootcamps.

She attended one that cost more than S$600 last year.

Last week, the 10-year-old United World College of South East Asia pupil took part in another bootcamp that cost US$1,399 (S$1,900), where she learnt to use a programme called RPG Maker to build her own game using Java code.

“Coding is fun. After a while, it gets harder and harder, but still in the end, you know that you made a game, so it is cool,” Apple said.

As demand for tech talent heats up, some parents are not taking chances with their children’s coding development — like Apple’s father, Mr Zhu Liliang, who is the chief technology officer of ZhongAn International, a subsidiary of Chinese insurtech giant ZhongAn.

This school break, the 43-year-old Singapore permanent resident from China asked his wife to pick any enrichment course she deemed worthy.

She chose to pay a premium on a game design camp offered by iD Tech, a firm headquartered in Silicon Valley.

PARENTS FLEW KIDS FROM SINGAPORE TO US FOR CAMPS

Despite enrolment costs of between S$1,760 and S$2,400, parents eagerly sign up for its week-long programmes, which are touted to “develop the in-demand skills needed to compete at top companies like Razer, Google, Facebook and Microsoft”. All four companies have offices in Singapore.

In its inaugural year in Singapore last year, about 280 children and teenagers aged seven to 17 attended the camps held on the National University of Singapore campus.

This year, its programmes drew some 390 participants.

iD Tech’s director of international operations Kristopher Kasper told TODAY his firm expanded to Singapore because of the demand — it had noticed that a number of parents fly their kids from Singapore to the United States to attend its camps.

“Singapore is a country that is interested in education, in technology. It is a place that prioritises education,” the American said.

In the United States, iD Tech — which has been around for 20 years — is known for its by-selection-only three-week tech bootcamps at Stanford University.

Called AcademyNext, the bootcamps link teens aged 16 to 19 directly with “top recruiters” from Google and other tech giants.

CODING ‘SHOULD BE FUN AND REWARDING’

Mr Zhu told TODAY that the iD Tech camp is part of his efforts to instil “programming thinking” in his daughter.

“For me, (the type of programming) language is just one thing,” he said. “Once you understand one language, it is quite easy to (learn another). They have some design thinking in this language. The basic things are quite similar.”

At the iD Tech camp, Apple built a game that is reminiscent of the early incarnation of the Nintendo Game Boy Pokemon game.

She created a protagonist named Max who is on a quest to find a hidden dragon before it bombs the city in 15 minutes.

Mr Zhu said he was not surprised that Apple can programme such a game, as she had been exposed to programming thinking when she started fiddling with iPads at age three.

In fact he is already thinking ahead: He wants Apple to learn Swift code to programme things like facial recognition.

However, Mr Zhu said it is important not to pile on too much stress on the child in picking up coding.

“Put them on a path, but (programming) does not have to be tough,” he said. “Your child will have to deal with it their whole life, and they shouldn’t resist these things. It should be fun and rewarding.”

Related topics

coding camp children ZhongAn International Zhu Liliang enrichment

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