Not too cool for school – NatWest Markets teaches kids to code

June 2019

Coding is the new times-tables as far as kids are concerned, so it made sense for NatWest Markets to set up a schools programme, helping young people around the world learn how to code.

NatWest Markets employees go into local schools with bits of kit and lots of enthusiasm and run day-long workshops called ‘RoboJams’. Children are taught how to build little robots using a variety of components, such as a 'raspberry pi' (a tiny computer used for programming), cardboard boxes, stickers, and loads of imagination.

Once the robots are assembled, it’s time for coding to begin. There are four tasks to complete during the sessions:

  • Moving the robot one meter exactly
  • Sending the robot through a maze
  • Decorating their robots

And the final arena battle where competition really heats up …

  • ‘Jamming for a good cause in Singapore

Volunteering with Robojam has given employees the chance to create lasting change. Find out how Ebi Obode discovered a passion for teaching kids to code.

RoboJams are the brainchild of Simon Wawra, Risk Technology, NatWest Markets, which he set up nearly four years ago. Simon has built a team of volunteers who head into schools across east London, working with kids who might not ordinarily have the chance to learn about robotics and programming.

Simon says, “We held our first RoboJam session in June 2016 with local schools with the aim of introducing children to a ‘maker’ culture and give them a flavour of computational thinking skills. Since then, we’ve taught over 300 children across different schools in London and Edinburgh”.

And now the ‘Jams have gone global! In March this year we held a session in Singapore for children from less privileged backgrounds. Supported by Beyond Social Services, a local children’s charity, 30 kids descended on NWM offices and spent a day coding and robot-building. Swee Eng Yeong, Head of Technology Risk and Controls APAC, said of the session: "Coding is being introduced to school curriculums and more parents are sending their children to learn coding for extracurricular enrichment. However, not all families can necessarily afford to pay for private tuition, so we wanted to share some of our skills for free.” 

Sahil Ibrahim Shaikh, Technology Development Lead, added, “It was amazing to see the level of creativity that the children showed. Seeing their enthusiasm and showing them a world of opportunities through this event made us all feel very humbled."

Coding’s cool in London

During the summer holidays of 2018, over 60 kids belonging to NWM colleagues joined us at our Bishopsgate campus for robo-fun, learning, and some friendly competition.

The children, who were supervised and guided by 20 volunteers, got into teams and worked together to build their unique robots. Robot's names included: Flash Dash, Tornado, and the Cranky Crusher!

Having learnt how to move their robots at least one meter, send them through a maze, and decorated them in wild and wonderful ways, it was time for The Final Battle.

This was serious stuff – balloons and cocktail sticks were strapped to the robots and the aim of the game was to pop the other teams' balloons whilst keeping their own safe. The noise from the arena was deafening, with lots of cheers, whoops, and laughter.

One child, aged 12, said "It was a really great experience to learn about coding, and I loved it!" The sessions are always a resounding success, and a great day for all who attended parents and kids alike.

Simon says of the ‘Jams, “the benefits of coding skills in a digital age are increasingly recognised and we are thrilled that RoboJam has now landed in Singapore”.

Plans are afoot to take our Robojams ‘on tour’ to India and the US.