Case study on a successful Taiwan NGO project – Promoting computer V

Case study on a successful Taiwan NGO project – Promoting computer V


Vincent Wen-sheng Wang, 

Secretary General of Taiwan African International Services Association 


Tony Liu, founder of the Coding Nations: “Programming language has become a popular choice of second foreign language for elementary schools in EU countries, but children in Taiwan have to wait until middle schools. Learning programming should be like learning a language; the earlier, the better!”


Coding classes so fun that kids don’t want to be dismissed


Founded in December 2016, the Coding Nations has rolled out more than 1,000 free computer software classes in more than 800 elementary schools in Taiwan over the past five years. Students learn to create animations and design games with coding during their after-school hours. These inspiring classes are so fun and popular that kids often miss the dismissal bell because they are too concentrated and immersed in their own projects. Teachers found that even without an information technology (IT) education background, they can be proficient enough to help the kids play around with coding after the training from the Coding Nations.


With many positive feedbacks on the after-school program, the Coding Nations launched a six-year plan, complete with the syllabus, teaching materials, and textbooks for students of all grades. So far, there have been 101 elementary schools in Taiwan signed up with the program, literally becoming “Coding Elementary Schools.” (Link: Coding Elementary School)


Landlords and tenants in the era of big data


Tony Liu was in the computer business in Europe before he retired and returned to Taiwan. He was shocked by the Taiwan industry’s outdated mindset that it blindly pursued cost-cutting while losing sight of the importance of imagination in the software industry. That’s why a Taiwanese chef sold a dish to a Taiwanese customer, and it was another American who ended up making a profit from it - because the transaction data is in the hand of Uber Eats!


The relationship between data owners and data contributors is similar to feudal landlords and tenants. Landlords exploited the tenants, just like data owners derive profit from the contributors. Do you wish our next generation to be landlords or tenants in the era of big data?


The following is an interview with Tony Liu:


Q: What is the government’s policy on computer programing education for school children? How’s the efficacy of the policy?


A: The current education policies have drawn a blurry line between information technology (IT) education and programming. However, IT education brings up data tenants dependent on software programs created by others. In contrast, programming education incubates data landlords who are capable of solving problems with programming language and imagination.


Based on the current syllabus, students are allowed merely a few hours to learn about programming unless they are one of the few trainees selected for competitions. It takes time to get the hang of coding skills, boost imagination, and learn to use coding on problem-solving.


Q: What advice does the Coding Nations have on current practice?


A: Computational logic should come before mastering instruction commands in teaching programming. Programming education should be treated as a technical subject or language. The importance of practice can’t be overstated, and the Coding Nations reiterates that weekly practice is required. In addition to problems with various levels of difficulty, abstract problems help expand students’ imagination.


A language is a tool for communication. Students learn to apply languages in writing or speeches; programming language is the same idea. Students are trained to present themselves through computers. Programming should be treated as a language, not simply a skill.


Q: How does the Coding Nations utilize and work with government resources?


A: Taiwan’s public schools, urban and rural ones alike, are equipped with cutting-edge hardware. And, most families have internet and computers at home. In general, Taiwan provides a better environment for programming learning ​​than most countries. However, the culture of academic supremacy causes schools and parents to neglect the education of programming languages. Programing is not on the syllabus of elementary schools, and at best peripheral in middle schools. An acute remedy is to list computer programming as one of the entrance examination subjects. In the era of big data and AI, programming language plays a more significant role than English.


Q: What is the incentive of schools to work with the Coding Nations? What’s the cost?


A: The reason why the Coding Nations chose elementary schools to roll out its programs was based on the consideration that elementary schools are readily equipped, and they don’t have to face imminent academic pressure yet. Besides, elementary school students are at their best age to start learning to code, and perfect for learning through playing. Teachers are handy for training. Considering the schools have no additional budget for such programs, the Coding Nations decided to offer free training to encourage schools to enroll. That’s how the program could reach more than 800 elementary schools in four to five years with more than a thousand after-school clubs and has benefited 70,000 school children.



Q: What’s the annual budget of the program? Where does the Coding Nations get the funding? How does it apply to the program?


A: The annual budget falls between NT$8 million to NT$10 million (US$289,000 to $361,000). It comes from donations of overseas Taiwanese businessmen, domestic enterprises, foundations, and individual donors. Generally speaking, 45% of the budget is spent on teaching materials and textbooks, 10% on tutor training, 40% on lecturer fees, and 5% on overhead costs.


Q: What are the incentives for the primary schools to participate in your program, and what’s their role to play?


A: Most of the authorities and principals are aware of the importance of programming language education but are tied down by the idea that programming teaching is the job of IT teachers and is hard to proliferate. However, the teaching materials and methods designed by the Coding Nations are relatively easy to follow. Especially when programming education is defined as a technical subject and that practice is prioritized over theory. Teachers are willing to give it a try. Most of the Coding Nations tutors do not have a computer science degree or professional background.


Q: How do you plan to extend the program to other countries? What’s the budget it requires, and how do you find the project partners?


A: The key to promoting our program overseas lies in the equipment. Our support in hardware installation and training programs can go side by side. Assuming our foreign partners already have their computer classrooms ready, we can go on with the following steps:


1.    Develop a cadre of trainers through online or on-site workshops. College students or teachers with IT education backgrounds would be great candidates. They will be the ones in charge of training local tutors;

2.    Recruiting elementary school teachers under the recommendation of foreign governments or NGOs to participate in the training program. 

3.    Trained tutors will be asked to build their own teaching materials based on the model textbooks provided by the Coding Nations, with modifications to match their own cultural background and actual need.

4.    Soliciting recommendations of schools and reparatory trainers from local government, and inviting NGOs from various countries to assist in the program; and

5.    Subsidizing the training program with a budget of NT$80,000 (around US$2,900) per class, with extra subsidies on traveling expenses if Coding Nations trainers are requested. The cost of training local tutors is set at NT$1,200 (around US$43) per hour and could be adjusted accordingly.



Q: How do you appeal to foreign users by creating English version textbooks? What’s your plan to refine the teaching materials?


A: The Coding Nations renews and updates its teaching materials annually, welcomes tutors’ input, and makes the materials accessible to others. Our teaching materials are mainly composed of problem-solving practices inspired by real-life activities. Hence the teachers’ input is invaluable. The Coding Nations provides mostly coding games to start with and is planning to organize international competitions to solicit more innovative applications in the future.


Q: Would you please provide some successful cases of elementary students?


A: The teaching material that the Coding Elementary Schools are using for six graders is the winning work of the 2019 Scratch PK competition “Cross-Field Practice Teaching Plan.” It presents language, mathematics, nature, social studies, physical education, and art classes with animation or games by coding.


The mission of the Coding Nations is to help children learn to express themselves with programming languages from an early age. Scratch is an easy-to-learn and easy-to-teach programming language and has met the needs of elementary school children. Other programming languages with higher complexity can wait until later. A solid foundation of computational thinking capability for the students will help smooth out the path toward their future learning.




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