Singapore teaches its seniors to code

A government initiative pairs a senior with a volunteer to guide them through the learning process.

Aloysius Low
Aloysius Low Senior Editor
Aloysius Low is a Senior Editor at CNET covering mobile and Asia. Based in Singapore, he loves playing Dota 2 when he can spare the time and is also the owner-minion of two adorable cats.
2 min read

While some elderly folks around the world are still busy figuring out how to use the internet, Singapore's senior citizens are getting started on coding.

Over the weekend, the libraries in Singapore played host to a special version of the global Hour of Code movement. Seniors aged 50 years and older learned how to code in Swift alongside student volunteer partners. The event was part of an initiative driven by the Singapore government to get its senior citizens up to speed with technology.

The Hour of Code is designed to help students to pick up coding and computer science. It can be organized by anyone, including those who don't know how to code. The movement claims to have already reached out to 100 million students in 180 countries.

Using Apple 's iPads and the Swift Playgrounds app, older participants spent an hour so learning the basic of programing, first getting the avatar moving around and collecting gems before moving on to loop integrations, though this depends on how quickly they pick up the language.

For former school principal Foo Chee Meng, 71, the session offered him the opportunity to revisit coding. He learnt Fortran and COBOL decades ago when he was still at studying at a university.

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"Swift is very different from what I learned previously, they've made it so that even ordinary people can just pick it up quite simply, not so for Fortran COBOL, you'll really need some knowledge for those," said Foo.

While the participants are unlikely to end up with killer coding skills or walk in with experience with coding like Foo, the one-hour session could help spark interest in a different hobby to keep their minds active.

For 15-year-old volunteer Juraais Bin Hasbullah, his main concern was being able to communicate with older participants who don't speak English as he doesn't speak the Chinese dialects. In Singapore, English adoption among the elderly isn't as widespread as the younger generation, though they can speak a smattering of it.

"It's not going to be easy for me as I'm afraid of the language barrier. But in terms of teaching them on how it's being done, I think it's easy as it's a very intuitive app," said Juraais. "And if there are more sessions, I'll definitely volunteer again."

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