TOKYO — As teenagers use their flexible thinking to create practical smartphone apps for life and learning — one high school student has already started his own app business — various initiatives have emerged in Japan to support young people who want to make the world a better place through information technology.
About 20 middle and high school students and others gathered inside a room in an office building in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, on May 23 to learn programming from university students at Life is Tech! School. Run by Life is Tech Inc., the course teaches students how to make smartphone apps and other skills, aiming to release the apps they create online.
Seminars also are held during summer vacation and other holidays. Since opening in March 2013, the school has taught about 180 students. The endeavor has received attention from IT companies, including garnering scholarships from Google Inc.
“It’d make me so happy if a lot of people used my app,” said a 14-year-old middle school student from Nerima Ward who attends the school. He said he would like to use the skills he has learned to start his own business someday.
Life is Tech President Yusuke Mizuno, 31, said he started the school because “there are a lot of kids who are interested in making apps, but there was no environment to teach them.”
Akira Baba, a professor of information studies at the University of Tokyo, said: “With so few resources, Japan needs to develop its information technology field for the sake of its future development. To do so, it’s important to teach people things like app development when they’re young.”
“The IT industry is struggling to secure app developers, who are in short supply,” said Junji Kawakami, head of the consumer project department at D2C Inc., a mobile advertising and marketing firm.
To help motivate young people, D2C started the Teens Apps Awards in 2011, an app development contest for primary, middle and high school students. Last year the contest received 533 entries from all over the country.
The creators’ youthful outlook is reflected in the apps submitted to the contest. One app alerts elderly people with an alarm when it is time to take their medicine, and then sends an email to family members when the medication is taken. Another makes instantaneous changes to classroom seating orders.
The tournament’s first winner, Kento Dodo, went on to study at Keio University and has since been contracted by a company to develop an app that provides information on Japanese otaku culture.
Dodo is currently an adviser to an IT company. “I’d like to produce an app that can detect bullying from online interactions,” he said.
Yu Asabe, another Teens Apps Awards champion, has already started his own business.
After winning the contest with an app that quizzes people on recorded sounds, the 16-year-old student at Makuhari Senior High School launched his own IT firm in December, with himself as president.
The company’s philosophy is: “Using IT, even a high school student can change the world.”
The firm is currently working on a website and app that Japanese middle and high school students can use to broadcast information about Japan overseas.
“Most people assume they’ll use apps made by someone else, but if you believe you can do it, even middle and high school students can give shape to their ideas,” Asabe said. “I hope more people take up the challenge.”