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eKids Volunteers: 10+ Years of Teaching Coding to Help Kids Develop Skills for the Future (Pt. 4)

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Technology continues to evolve at an incredibly rapid rate and the demand for people with coding skills is growing. Yet, offering basic tech courses to children is still not a standard part of curricula. In response to this increasingly critical and global need, we’ve been building a community that encourages children to explore software engineering through the Scratch platform.

The eKids program wouldn’t be what it is today without our 765+ volunteers spanning 15 countries and spending 32,000+ hours helping local children learn to code, preparing them for the future predominantly driven by technology. In our previous eKids Volunteers interview segment, we spoke with EPAMers from India and China about their experience teaching EPAM eKids. Here’s another segment from some volunteers in Hungary and China:

Why did you decide to volunteer for EPAM eKids?

Martina Horvath (Hungary): I feel lucky, because I loved programming at a young age and chose it as my career. I would like everyone to understand that IT is interesting and exciting. I believe that, if we show it to the kids, they also see the beauty of it.

Imre Papai (Hungary): Before working at EPAM, I taught informatics and technical skills, so I decided to apply my experience to this great mission to help our young generation of IT kids.

Krisztian Huterjak (Hungary): I believe that teaching is important and I saw this as a way for me to pass on the torch of everything I have learned.

Kyle Huang (China): As a father, I feel especially compelled to teach children something that they will need to know in order to be successful.

Can you tell me what the eKids workshops are like?

Martina Horvath (Hungary): At the beginning of the workshop, we always start with a game to get to know each other, make friends and warm up for the lesson. In our trainings, we like to show that learning can be educational, yet entertaining at same time.

Imre Papai (Hungary): The lessons really focus on pair work and classwork. On the other hand, we have a chance to help the participants improve IT-related skills mainly focusing on visual programming. We can interact and engage if they have questions, which improves confidence among teachers, mentors and students as well.

Kyle Huang (China): Kids love the workshops. They’re able to play games while learning a skill that will benefit them in the future.

How easy is it for people with non-tech backgrounds to learn the Scratch program?

Martina Horvath (Hungary): The greatest lesson that I learned from taking part in the 2017 Scratch Conference is that everyone can learn Scratch. If they want to learn it and have enough motivation, they can do it.

Imre Papai (Hungary): It always depends on the motivation of participants. For me, Scratch is easy to use and learn because it is a simple, handy and useful visual application that helps children explore coding and programming.

Krisztian Huterjak (Hungary): It all depends on their mindset. Scratch is fairly simple. The way a programmer needs to think is more difficult to learn.

Kyle Huang (China): I believe everyone in the world can learn the Scratch. It doesn't matter what background you have.

Why is it so important for kids to learn about technology like coding at such a young age and how does Scratch fit in to this initiative?

Martina Horvath (Hungary): At this age, they are more open to learning new things. Scratch also helps kids learn algorithmic thinking, which is very useful in any field or career. It is easy to use, and kids can create a complex project in a short time. Even if somebody is not really interested in coding itself, they can find at least some interesting part of it, such as drawing and coloring sprites, which is also essential to complete a project.

Imre Papai (Hungary): Not just Scratch, but also every coding tool improves mathematical and algorithmic thinking skills. The extra value for children is that they can create something new and enjoyable for themselves. It shows parents how their children can use the computer for learning. Using this visual programming language, kids can build the blocks of code like a puzzle. The cast moves under the programmers’ inspirations, their commands and I think they really like it. Code comes to life.

Krisztian Huterjak (Hungary): Children are more open to learning and they can easily learn programming when it’s introduced to them at a young age. Scratch is a great tool because it’s easy to use and provides a tool for them to express their creativity.

Kyle Huang (China): Kids are growing up in a very different world than their parents. Smart phones, computers, YouTube, WeChat, QQ and Facebook are embedded in their daily lives. Even toys are digital, and many are programmable, such as Legos. Learning to code is the same as learning a new language; it’s one of the fastest growing occupations. Like learning a new language or riding a bike, it is best to start learning how to code in the early years. With programming knowledge, kids better understand the world around them. Most people don’t know what makes our smartphones, laptops, social media networks and video games run. Basic programming knowledge can change the way we interact with the technologies we use daily, and can open our eyes to the infinite possibilities of coding. Scratch gives children the ability to work together to solve problems and create something new.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that kids and educators face today in a technology-driven world?

Martina Horvath (Hungary): Kids have too many lessons a week and they get tired. As a result, they become unmotivated. Schools should teach kids critical thinking instead of learning everything word-for-word.

Imre Papai (Hungary): Technology is growing fast and I think it is hard to follow these changes. Also, it’s not easy to handle the differences between participants: for example, some of them have informatics lessons bi-weekly, which is not enough.

Krisztian Huterjak (Hungary): I would say managing expectations when it comes to learning about technology.

Kyle Huang (China): In my lessons alone, the time goes by too fast. I wish we had more time to teach the kids more about programming.

What are some of your favorite moments as an eKids volunteer and what is the most impressive thing you’ve seen the students accomplish?

Martina Horvath (Hungary): I love seeing the kids become more enthusiastic and motivated with each lesson. The biggest challenge for the kids is when they give presentations on the projects they created at the end of the Scratch trainings. I’m always happy to see the clever solutions that they come up with.

Imre Papai (Hungary): When they presented their projects at the end of the course, I was so proud of them. It’s great to see their improvements and growth.

Krisztian Huterjak (Hungary): My favorite moment was when I first met the kids. I would say the impressive part was when one of the kids from a previous season hosted one of the sessions.

Kyle Huang (China): It is an honor for me to be able to teach these children and see how excited they get during each lesson.

That wraps up our interview series with EPAM eKids volunteers! Be sure to stay tuned for other eKids-related initiatives at EPAM.

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