As of 2017, the disabled community only makes up 0.26% of the Malaysian civil service. According to Mohammed Nazari Othman from Society of the Blind Malaysia, Malaysia has a policy that aims to have at least 1% of the disabled community be employed. However, as of July 2018, employment numbers for the disabled are only in between 0.7%-0.8%.
iTrainKids, with the support of Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) and volunteers from the My Digital Maker movement, is out to change those numbers! The team recently conducted a coding workshop at SK Pendidikan Khas Selangor with the goal of helping the school’s special needs students get started on learning basic coding principles in a fun and engaging way. Aged between seven and twelve years old, a majority of these special needs students have hearing difficulties, which made for an unusually silent yet interesting experience for many of the educators involved! Paying rapt attention, the students responded eagerly to the teachers’ instructions via gesticulative sign language. iTrainKids trainers and facilitators were also given a crash course on basic sign language and signals prior to beginning their lessons—so all in all, it was a mutually enriching experience for all parties involved!
Amirul Syafiq, Lead Programme Innovator of iTrainKids, led the class through a series of logical games and taught them the basics of creating their own video game. The students managed to create a 2D shooting game in space from scratch. They were taught how to design their spaceships, enemies, and weapons.
One of the teachers who spearheaded the program, Andyka Hasrat Bin Rahmat told us that his experience in the school led him to believe that his students were exceptional and creative. He added: “There are vocational schools that could provide them with avenues for design and coding, but we hoped that this workshop could help ignite their interest in coding at an early age.” Andyka believes that because coding teaches children how to think in a logical order, this could also help improve their daily coordination, which is an important skill most able-bodied people take for granted.
“Providing a conducive ecosystem to nurture and groom talented young Malaysians to become future digital innovators is part of our mission at MDEC,” explained Puan Azura Abu Bakar, a manager for K12 Ecosystem Development at MDEC. “We work with iTrainKids and many other ‘champion school’ partners to build this ecosystem and to provide innovative digital learning opportunities to school children; regardless of their type of abilities. Through activities such as hands-on experience in coding, 3D printing, robotics, embedded programming and data analytics, we aim to uncover more future inventors in Malaysia.”
Izzat, a 17-year-old alumnus of MDEC’s Digital Ninja programme told us how he wished he had the chance to be part of programming workshops. “Back then, we had no programming workshops like this. Today, with tech in education it’s easier to learn.”
Drawing from her own experience in programming, Puan Azura added: “Personally, it’s hard and I learned to program at university. It nearly made me give up. But with the new platforms that children have today, it’s much more fun. It’s easier to cultivate interest. Previously, we didn’t have the right content to teach kids.”
iTrainKids believes that coding is just the right ‘learning content’ that special needs children require to shine. It not only can be employed by educational programme collaborators to trigger an early interest in technology but in the long run—coding can also open doors to potential employment in digital fields. As producers of digital culture, the world is their oyster and physical limitations need not be barriers.
Technology learning appeals to special needs students who can be especially receptive to concrete logical concepts, plus it also builds their self-esteem and socialisation skills. Armed with the ability to build tech solutions of the future, special needs students may very well be the best developers of answers that can help improve the lives of the disadvantaged. These include building assistive technology tools for the disabled such as driverless cars for the blind, connected apps to help them cross the road, assistive hearing sensors for the deaf, etc. Only the sky is the limit as disability tech continues to go mainstream.
To support iTrainKids’ mission to bring special coding content to those who need it most, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the iTrainKids team at +603-2733 0337. iTrainKids is increasingly working with corporations and companies (both governmental and private) to introduce CSR programmes that assist the disadvantaged, and has also kickstarted a programme to donate computers to underprivileged kids. All this, aided by the strong belief that coding can turn any disability into a powerful ability to change the world.