In a far north Queensland classroom, a group of Year 6 students are learning skills that could help them become the Mark Zuckerbergs of the future.
The Cairns West State School students are building their own computer games from scratch, as part of an entrepreneurship class.
In the Club Kidpreneur program, the kids have to come up with an idea, develop and code their games, and then market and sell them to their school community.
“Our company name is Starlight Gaming. It’s where this UFO star goes to different planets,” said Lily, one of the kidpreneurs.
Getting ready for what lies ahead
Around three-quarters of the students at Cairns West State School are Indigenous, and another 10 per cent are refugees.
Only a very small number of the school’s 700 students have a computer with internet access at home.
Year 6 teacher Michael Thomas said the program provided opportunities across the entire curriculum.
“We don’t know what the workplace will look like when these kids finish school,” Mr Thomas said.
“We do know that a lot of jobs will be taken up by robots and artificial intelligence.
“The people who are programming those are the ones who’ll have the jobs,” he said.
Mr Thomas said the children were learning literacy and numeracy skills, as well as science and technology.
“They’re learning how to communicate, they’re learning how to work in teams, they’re learning how to weigh up the pros and cons of situations … so it’s got everything really,” Mr Thomas said.
Caves, bees and outer space
“It’s sort of like Pacman 2 and when you reach the finish line you go to the next level, and it’s a lot of programming to do,” River said.
Other programs in the making involve travelling through outer space, Pac-Man style games, and one about a bee trying to collect honey.
“The game’s called The Maze. You can’t touch the lines or you’ll restart and if you get to the end you can get to the next level,” Jahkiel said.
“Some of the kids are coming up with some astonishing ideas: lots of colours, lots of graphics and lots of real challenges, even for an adult to play,” Mr Thomas said.
“It’s about this bee who’s lost all his honey, he’s trying to collect more but this squirrel is stopping him, throwing his nuts at him,” Destiny said, describing her game.
Taking ideas out of the classroom
The program was started by entrepreneur Creel Price, who was once a kidpreneur himself, said the general manager of Club Kidpreneur, Gemma Alker.
“He started his very first business at the age of 11 selling strawberries on the family farm because he wanted to purchase a Commodore 64,” Ms Alker said.
“Once you get a student started on the idea of being in control of their learning … it’s really quite amazing — they’re unstoppable.”
The program runs nationally, with a competition held at the end of each year in which the kidpreneurs pitch the products they have invented.
“Over in South Australia, last year’s Kidpreneur winners came up with hygienic shopping trolley handle covers, so you never need to touch another shopping trolley again,” Ms Alker said.
She said a number of the kids had continued to run their businesses even after the classroom program had ended.
Oscar, who wants to be a game designer when he finishes school, is making a game called The Mysterious Cave.
“I used to make video games at kindergarten once … that’s when I first learnt how to program,” Oscar said.
“Me and my brother are going to actually make another company, and see if we can try and make games of our own.”
“In New South Wales [at] Coopernook Public School we’ve got kids who’ve created sustainable [fishing] lures, and I know that they are iterating and making other fishing products,” Ms Alker said.
“To be motivated to continue running their business after doing the Club Kidpreneur school program is something we’re very proud of.
“Because it absolutely is evidence that the kids are engaged and that the students feel empowered.”
The students at Cairns West State School will sell their games to their school community at an event in August.