WhizzKids celebrates 20 years teaching Irish children to code

2 Jun 2022

Image: © FAMILY STOCK/Stock.adobe.com

A tech and coding camp for kids aged eight to 15, WhizzKids began in University of Limerick in 2002 and has since spread nationwide.

WhizzKids summer camp is celebrating 20 years in action this year.

The tech and coding skills camp for children runs out of 10 third-level campuses around the country, including University of Limerick, Maynooth University, NUI Galway, Munster Technological University and University College Dublin.

Initially set up in 2002 at the University of Limerick, WhizzKids is aimed at young people from ages eight to 15. Participants are divided into classes based on their age and the focus is on education as well as fun.

Lessons range from the basics of scratch programming to HTML/CSS and Python. As well as developing coding skills, young people are introduced to animation, game development, 3D modelling, web design, bots and more.

WhizzKids’ founder, Gary Lowe, is a graduate of the University of Limerick and approached the university in 2002 with the idea for running a tech summer camp.

Many things have changed since then and “children’s access to hardware is now vastly different”.

In the early days, many children taking part in the camps may not have had access to a computer at home. “Nowadays, they are walking around with computers in their pockets,” Lowe said.

“Not only did we supply them with a computer each at our camps, we also gave them handheld devices like BlackBerrys, XDAs and digital cameras. They would go absolutely crazy when we handed them this expensive equipment. These days we have edbots and microbits, so we are still handing them cool kit, but it’s different cool kit.”

Lowe has also seen a shift in attitudes towards tech over the past two decades.

“Now Ireland is one of the major tech hubs in the world, but companies like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc didn’t even exist back in 2002,” he said.

“In response to the massive growth of tech companies, children’s exposure to the world of programming is vastly different too. We run school programmes now too, but clubs like CoderDojo really spread the gospel.

“We have been adapting for 20 years to the new trends and we plan to be doing it for the next 20,” he concluded.

Two schoolchildren sit in front of a tablet.

Anna Dowdall and Amy Byrne from Glenasmole National School participate in a special Minecraft session in DCU St Patrick’s Campus. Image: Naoise Culhane

Also for coding-loving kids this summer, the final of the Ireland’s Future is MINE digital skills competition will be televised on RTÉ2 on 16 June at 5pm.

A first-of-its-kind e-sports TV broadcast will see children from two primary schools in Leitrim and Westmeath compete to become All-Ireland champions in a Minecraft challenge.

The competition is being delivered through a collaboration between by Microsoft Ireland and RTÉjr. Launched last September, it challenges primary school students to use Minecraft: Education Edition to think creatively, collaborate, problem-solve and shape Ireland’s sustainable future.

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Blathnaid O’Dea is Careers reporter at Silicon Republic