In and around the Mekong Delta, school children will spend this summer moving rainbow-colored blocks and cartoon animals around a screen to get an early taste of computers in a program backed by Google.
The tech company is paying for Vietnamese students to learn some introductory programming, along the way perhaps earning some goodwill from Vietnamese officials who are taking an increasingly strict view toward global internet firms.
The Mekong Community Development Center will run the classes, which make use of Scratch, a very basic computer language that lets children create their own virtual games.
“To support Vietnam’s development in the direction of the Industrial Revolution 4.0 in the most effective and practical way, Google is focused on developing projects to build and raise awareness and capacity in information technology in Vietnam,” said Ha Lam Tu Quynh, who is the director of communications and public relations in charge of Vietnam at Google Asia Pacific. “We believe children in particular will be the best creators of the future.”
She was referring to a tech revolution that has been a buzz word around the Communist country, encompassing all kinds of new tech, from the internet of things, to big data analysis.
Google, which did not disclose how much it is spending, is far from alone in stressing its corporate social responsibility, allowing firms to do good or look good, or both. It would not hurt to earn some goodwill with Vietnam, which has been overhauling its legislative and regulatory system in a way that has not always gone over well with tech companies.
Last year the Southeast Asian country pressed local advertisers to boycott Facebook and Google’s YouTube because they had permitted content critical of the state. In a more recent example, the National Assembly is debating a draft law on cyber security that would require businesses to store data inside the borders and delete online information that is deemed objectionable.
The U.S. embassy in Hanoi expressed “concerns about Vietnam’s proposed cyber security law, including the impact of localization requirements and restrictions on cross-border services for the future development and growth of Vietnam’s economy.”
Also contributing to the child-friendly computer lessons, with laptops and technical support, is the Dariu Foundation, which focuses on micro-finance and education for low-income people in Vietnam, Myanmar, and India. Nguyen Van Hanh, the director of the Dariu Foundation, noted that roughly 65 percent of those now in primary school will be doing jobs someday that do not exist right now, citing data from the World Economic Forum.
“With all of the economic and social changes brought on by technology, we do not know exactly the kind of skills children will need in order to develop and become citizens who contribute positively to the world in the future through work,” he said in discussing his group’s participation in the Scratch classes. “However, we can be sure that today’s children need to be equipped with many skills to adapt to the challenges and the requirements of the digital era.”
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology invented the simple Scratch language so that computer programming would be more widely accessible. First-time programmers do not type dense lines of code, but rather use logic to design things like animation and games, dragging colorful objects and command labels around the software interface. Even an 8-year-old can do it, and in fact they do.
So will 1,200 public school students in the Vietnamese metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City and the nearby delta provinces of Vinh Long and Tien Giang.
The initiative “Programming the Future with Google,” also includes digital training for 30 local school teachers, will run from now through August.
By Ha Nguyen