T4G #8 | When tech is the easy part
or whether you should send kids to a coding bootcamp
I learned a long time ago that technology is always the easy part.
It's easy, not in the sense that I can figure out the next ChatGPT or self-driving cars. Technology is easy in the sense that if we know what to build, we can build it. The hard part is figuring out the "what" and getting the right "we" to do so.
I have been talking to many young people in the past few weeks to figure out how they have been giving and why they started. When we started Give.Asia almost 15 years ago, we were all students. I was in junior college back then (and had not yet known or joined the company until 5 years later). We now have families and our own kids. We definitely don't know how young people are really volunteering and giving nowadays. Hence, we wanted to learn from them.
We talked about many things, but two stories stuck with me.
The first story was shared by one of the undergraduates behind Project Homerun, the very first university-level chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Habitat for Humanity's volunteering sessions involved cleaning up houses of low-income and underprivileged citizens in Singapore, and many of these houses suffer serious hygiene problems. Personally, I did one such cleaning project in secondary school, and it really opened my eyes to these hidden corners of Singapore. When asked if they started volunteering for Habitat for Humanity in Junior College (JC), one of them, Puneet, said that he actually did not even consider doing that. He said that back then, he thought such kind of cleaning work felt too dirty for him. He then shared that only after serving in national service did he start to feel "normal" with working in less-hygienic conditions. I found Puneet's experience both funny and inspiring at the same time. It's very ordinary, yet very real about how someone's worldview transformed and even led Puneet to take the initiative to volunteer and help others get on board.
The second story was shared by Dora, one of the members of Project Hiraeth, another campaign supporting Habitat for Humanity. Dora started Project Hiraeth when she was in Junior College 3 years ago. One of her most memorable experiences was how her group organized a livestreaming concert during the pandemic lockdown. I asked her what platform she used to host the concert, and she told me that they just shared their project's Instagram login with each artist who participated. So when it was one artist's turn, they would update the Instagram description and share the login so the artist could livestream from the project's account. Now in university, I asked if she is still volunteering. Dora mentioned one of her volunteering activities is online tuition for a refugee learning center in Malaysia. She was teaching students between 16-22 years old, but whose education level is close to that of 12-year-olds. She shared that because the tuition is done online, it's difficult to have rich experiences with her students. But one day, one of the two sisters she was teaching did not turn up. The other girl told Dora that her sister couldn't attend because she was preparing for her wedding. That experience seemed to stick with Dora.
Because of my background in tech, I'm often asked by other parents if they should enroll their kids in coding bootcamps. I think any educational exposure for kids can be beneficial, but often it's about the parents' expectations that are more important. Learning coding and technology is easy for anyone who has the capabilities and interest in problem-solving and critical thinking. Technology is the easy part; the other things involved in a problem are hard.
Dora did not need a dedicated streaming platform to do a live streaming concert; she did it with a creative solution. Puneet started volunteering not because he found new technology, but because he could relate his newly gained experience from national service with giving. Can a coding bootcamp teach students these skills and ways of thinking? I doubt it.
Our vision at Give.Asia is "Inspire everyone to be a giver." One of the keywords is "Inspire." It's an idea that we want to advocate, a new norm that we want to realize. Part of that process involves technology because it's already an enabling factor for many things that we do. But technology is just part of the equation, and that is the easy part. I have been wondering how we can help more young people know more about examples like Puneet and Dora, seemingly ordinary students whose experiences and revelations might be something kids or adults alike might never experience. I think people just need one memorable giving experience to inspire them to be a giver for life. How can we provide students more opportunities to volunteer and give since young? I don't know yet, but we will keep learning and trying.
And for the question of whether to send kids to a coding bootcamp? Yes, but it depends :)
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