Kids crack the code to future success

Rise of artificial intelligence is encouraging parents to send children to programming courses, Zou Shuo reports.

Children who are learning coding design games in a competition in Beijing. [Photo/Xinhua]

Find a 5-year-old if you need help using a smartphone or tablet is advice that may soon ring truer than ever, with an increasing number of coding classes now available for children in China.

As the country seeks to integrate artificial intelligence into everyday life, parents are becoming convinced that traditional extracurricular courses, like math and English, won’t give their children a competitive edge in the future job market.

Chinese parents, so fond of sending their children to after-school training courses, have a new favorite subject: computer coding.

As parents’ interest shifts toward tech-related skills, and with the formal school curriculum giving scant attention to coding, companies are emerging to fill the niche market.

Most children are familiar with computers, tablets and smartphones and play digital games on them, but some have gone further than their peers and can create their own games and animation.

“When you keep jumping, the basketball will never fall,” said Du Minxing, a 7-year-old from Beijing.

He was playing a game he designed, Basketball Master, that requires players to jump constantly in front of the computer screen to keep a ball floating.

For one jump, the players get one point. After about three minutes and a score of 144, Du stopped.

Out of breath, the second-grader said, “The game can help me lose some weight.”

He designed the game in just an hour at a summer coding camp in Beijing held by coding education platform Codemao. In just three days at the one-week camp, Du had designed four games.

“I think I will be able to design eight games at the end of the camp,” he said. “When I perform well, the teacher allows me to take breaks and I use the time to design new games.

“Coding is very interesting, and I want to become a professional coder when I grow up so I can design really complicated and interesting games.”

Meng Deyuxuan, from Harbin, Heilongjiang province, is the youngest child at the camp and is known by his classmates for saying “no matter how many times you have failed (in coding), you need to keep trying”.

The 6-year-old began to learn coding at a training institution run by his father about a year ago.

Meng designed a piano game where players can compose tunes by typing one to seven on the keyboard, with each number representing a different note.

“I never feel tired when I am coding, and I feel great pride when I solve all the bugs and successfully design a new game,” he said.

As in most countries, Chinese students do not tend to learn coding unless they are studying a technology-related degree at university. But in a nation locked in an ever-closer embrace with AI, parents are recognizing coding is one of the best ways to prepare children for a future that cannot be easily predicted, and that there’s no better time to get their children hooked on coding classes.