When 50,000 people gather in an indoor stadium on a weekend, it’s usually to watch a sporting event.
However at the SPICE Arena in Penang, Malaysia, a different kind of event was taking place in November 2014. The main attraction was not sports, but the Penang International Science Fair (PISF).
Already in its fourth year, the PISF gives young people first-hand exposure to science and engineering in a stimulating and creative environment. Hosted by the Penang Science Cluster and planned by the Penang State Government, the PISF is just one way Malaysia aims to achieve its goal of 60 percent of children and young adults taking up Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education.
This year, participants at the PISF got the chance to learn coding skills at the Microsoft ‘Coding for Malaysia’ booth. More than 200 youth, aged 11 to 24, were given a chance to explore Code.org, a website that provides simple tutorials on coding—enabling students to customise existing games like Angry Birds and learn Microsoft Small Basic, a simplified variant of BASIC, a general-purpose, high-level programming language.
Facilitators were present during the sessions to guide students and answer any questions. Danaraj Ram Kumar, a Software Engineering student at Taylors University and a facilitator at the event said of the participants, “They were not only keen, but also fast learners.”
Even though some of the concepts were targeted at secondary school students, one eleven year-old boy had no trouble picking it up, saying that is was “So easy!”
“One particular session was even made entirely of ‘Girl Power’ coders from an all-girls school in Penang. It was a great way to show that programming is not a male-dominated field,” said Jasmine Begum, Legal and Corporate Affairs Director of Microsoft Malaysia.
“Many students left the event with the feeling that STEM education is something they will definitely consider. Other pre-university students mentioned they are considering Computer Science as one of their selected subjects,” she added.