Free coding sessions to move Pokemon characters surges in popularity


Children have been honing their computer programming skills for free at CoderDojo, a volunteer-led club.

One of CoderDojo’s more popular training programs uses well-known characters to get users into learning about the basics of computer programming, which has recently become a compulsory subject in elementary school (see below).

As the program can be accessed from the user’s home, it has been providing valuable learning opportunities during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The program has been provided, organized and supported by the general incorporated association of CoderDojo Japan in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo.

■ Fueled by donors

CoderDojo first appeared in Ireland in 2011 as a way for people to experience computer programming. The dojo has a focus on developing creativity rather than acquiring practical skills, and they provide such learning opportunities mainly to children aged 7-17.

The idea blossomed and now there are about 2,000 CoderDojo clubs across 112 countries with more than 200 in Japan. Tokyo alone has about 30, which are reportedly funded by donations from companies and volunteers.

CoderDojo Japan became incorporated in 2016 to support CoderDojo clubs nationwide.

“As the CoderDojo clubs continue to expand, it’s important to make the activities more and more enjoyable and to create an environment that keeps motivating children to join in on the activities,” said Yohei Yasukawa, 34, representative director of the organization and operator of a company in the information technology sector.

■ CoderDojo, children choose you!

An educational program that allows users to operate popular Pokemon characters caught the attention of Yasukawa and a CoderDojo Japan director Kirie Miyajima, 24. The program was created by The Pokemon Company in Minato Ward, Tokyo, whose business includes game development.

Users of the Pokemon program combine instructional blocks of code, such as “move” and “wait,” then watch as characters like Pikachu and Eevee follow their compiled commands and move about on a screen.

The Pokemon program was presented at an online experience event attended by CoderDojo clubs nationwide and was well-received by the participating children and their parents. The company provided the program free of charge for CoderDojo activities. Miyajima and others later modified it for use by CoderDojo.

■ ‘Arts and crafts’ final stepping stone’

Miyajima has served as the representative of CoderDojo Kashiwa in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, since he was in high school, and currently studies information and communication technology education at the graduate school of Gakushuin University.

Programming is ‘arts and crafts’ final stepping stone’ for children, following scissors, glue among others, said Miyajima. “It can be used more widely as a tool for thinking and expression.”

Miyajima holds Pokemon-themed workshops at the CoderDojo he heads as well. After he saw beginner-level children enjoying the programming workshops, he understood that Pokemon was massively popular with kids.

As of mid-August, the Pokemon character program has been introduced at about 40 CoderDojo clubs nationwide. Now that Miyajima and Yasukawa are aware of its popularity, they hope that many more children will be able to learn to code and experience the joy of programmable creativity.

■ Computer programming education

Computer programming education became a compulsory subject in elementary school under the revised curriculum guidelines that were fully implemented in the 2020 school year. High school students will also be required to take “Information Study I,” a new subject that includes computer programming, from the 2022 school year. The National Center for University Entrance Examinations has announced its plan to add “Information” to the Common Test for University Admissions in 2025.