(Yicai Global) May 4 -- Ami Dror is the Israeli-born CEO of Leaplearner, an application and Edtech solution for children to learn coding in participating learning centres and schools in Shanghai.
Ami (his preferred form of address) himself learned to code as a child and now enlists the help of his own children in putting his Leaplearner software through its paces. Yicai Global asked him about his process.
"I was a very lucky child. When I was ten, my mother encouraged me to start learning coding." He grew up in a family that "hardly spoke any English and coding changed my life because I was lucky enough to be in the first generation of kids that knew how to code."
Leaplearner aims to give this generation's children the same opportunities coding afforded Dror at a young age – "A child's ability to continuously learn new skills, create and adapt are the foundation for their future success," the company said. What skills does learning to code teach kids?
Through the knowledge he gleaned, Dror applied his skillset and educated himself further. "I created games that taught me how to learn English, I created fun games, so you can really build your reality and in the world of robots, this is pretty much the most important skill."
"When you look at the kids of the future, the kids of the future will live here at 2030, they will need completely different skills than the skills we are providing them right now in school and they will need those soft skills that will allow them to be able to create and to adapt very fast to the changes in existing technology and therefore there is something very special about coding that helps you. In coding, we have something called the feedback loop – you write a line of code and immediately you know if it's working or not. If it's working, this feedback gives you a very strong feeling of satisfaction, and if it doesn't work, you need to debug it."
Dror demonstrated this in his office, changing one part of simple lines of code can easily change the dimensions and colors of the graphics in a version of the classic computer game Pong. Children can also learn how to manipulate the code of Pac Man to change him into a puppy.
Joining the Leaplearner program is akin to a coding boot camp for young, enquiring minds. For the initial three weeks, children embark on a self-study program at home, followed by a group "hackathon" where they compete against each other and test their skills.
The idea of teaching children how to be creative and innovative through coding is relatively new, however there are competitors for Leaplearner outside of Shanghai, where the Beta version has been available since April 25.
How does Leaplearner differ from its competitors, who are offering similar programs like Scratch, developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Khan Academy or Code Academy? Dror told Yicai Global of the limitations and shortcomings of each.
"I love Khan Academy, I love Scratch, I think those are wonderful platforms and any platform that teaches a child how to code is wonderful, I cannot say enough – please use those platforms. At the same time, if you look at those platforms, if you look at Scratch for example, it is a little bit like learning engineering by playing with Lego. Which is great, in order to get to the beginning of this art, but definitely not to learn this art until the end."
Learning coding is an experiential process, you simply have to learn by doing it.
"When you look at Khan Academy, (their approach) is that you can learn by watching videos. We think that with the current generation, it's much better to learn by playing video games, and even better, by designing video games, rather than just watching videos."
Early investors in Leaplearner include ex-Alibaba CTO John Wu, who encouraged Dror personally that Shanghai, not Silicon Valley was the place for him and Shane Tedjarati, the Honeywell President for Global High Growth Regions. What are Leaplearner's expectations for growth in the future?
"When you look at the kids of the future, the kids of the future will live here at 20, 30 and if you look at the founders (Leo Zhao, CTO, Aaron Tian, CEO) including myself and my investment company (Zaitoun Ventures, an Israeli-Palestine investment firm Dror co-founded), we financed the initial rollout ourselves and then we had a very interesting phenomenon. People would come here to the office in order to see a demo of Leaplearner and they would want to invest, and so we closed our C-investment round in a relatively fast, relatively easy way, because it's a very visual concept and here people really really care about education and they understand it immediately – a five-year-old kid coding. Naturally, when we start expanding into China, this is when we'll have to have our second round.
Leaplearner is targeting 5,000 initial users in Shanghai and the platform, a combination of online and offline learning opens to the public June 1.
Ami Dror is a fellow at the Aspen Institute affiliated the Aspen Global Leadership Network and Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Zaitoun Ventures, an Israeli-Palestinian investment company.