Should All O.C. Kids Learn to Code?

Lake Forest computer programmer Raj Sidhu makes his case

The 24-year-old made headlines last May when a successful Kickstarter campaign funded Raj Sidhu’s educational board game, Code Monkey Island. After selling thousands, Sidhu decided to start a coding academy for 8- to 13-year-olds. The Costa Mesa-based CodeCampus began admitting students in March.

After earning a degree in computer science from New York University, Sidhu, a fan of board games, set out to create one that would allow him to pass on his love of programming to children. While a few similar games geared toward younger kids existed, Code Monkey Island took the concept a step further by delving into the syntax of coding, and teaching kids 8 and older core concepts such as conditional statements and basic looping.

“I wanted to make sure the game was colorful and fun. I thought about what I would have enjoyed as a kid, which was pretty easy because I’m still a kid at heart—I have my Pokemon cards perfectly preserved.”

Not only do children apparently enjoy the game—so do adults. Sidhu has sold copies to U.S. schools and colleges, a graduate program in Amsterdam, and received a call from the minister of education in Macedonia, who heard about the game and wants to implement it in every elementary school in the country.

“Kids can pick it up a lot more easily than we think. It’s a bit like math or language—it can get complex, but the fundamentals aren’t difficult, especially when you’re younger. That’s why I started CodeCampus and designed the courses to be part of a well-rounded curriculum.”

Unlike other coding schools in O.C., Sidhu’s classroom-sized academy, with MacBooks at every table, offers twice-a-week after-school lessons. Students learn to use programming languages such as Python and build simple animations and games. As with a high school or college course, they also get homework, do projects, and listen to guest speakers. Sidhu, who was born in Mission Viejo and grew up in Newport Beach, is working with local districts to set up coding classes on each elementary school campus.

“Programming is a proven way to increase skills in math, logic, and reasoning. You break down every problem into smaller problems, and solve each one. In Palo Alto, kids learn to code in school. They’re making their own apps in middle school, and by the time they’re in college they have a business plan. That’s the sort of head start I want to give O.C. kids.”

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