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Rediff.com  » Getahead » Should young children learn how to code?

Should young children learn how to code?

By Geetanjali Krishna
November 05, 2020 14:24 IST
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Parents should enroll their children in coding classes only as a leisure time activity, that too with strict curbs on screen time.
Geetanjali Krishna finds out more.

IMAGE: Online coding classes have become popular during the lockdown. Photograph: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com
 
  • Hiranya Rajni, seven, has created a sign language app that allows people to communicate with hearing impaired individuals using the American Sign Language.
  • Priti Verma, 43, avers that coding classes helped her son, who struggles with learning and has attention span issues, by teaching him an alternative, more logical form of expression as well as providing a socially enabling space online.
  • The Massachusetts Institute of Technology states that children should be taught to code early, just like writing and arithmetic.

Ever since the new National Education Policy, announced in July 2020, incorporated coding as a subject for students from Class 6 onwards, private coding class providers have been flooded with applications.

Bengaluru-based edtech start-up Vedantu launched Vedantu Superkids in May to equip early learners between three and 12 years with coding skills and claims it now has 25 million users. It has raised $100 million in funding.

In July, Mumbai-based Toppr launched Toppr Codr to make students between six and 18 ready for the challenges of a 21st-century workforce.

Byju's, which acquired WhiteHat Jr for $300 million in August, has already pumped a further Rs 136 crore into the edtech disrupter.

"Since we began 18 months ago, our annual revenues have grown to $250 million today," says Karan Bajaj, founder and CEO, WhiteHat Jr. "The fact that we've grown 100 per cent month on month during the pandemic shows the magnitude of the demand for coding in India."

Coding fever isn't limited to India. It is trending in Israel, China, US and elsewhere.

MIT's Media Lab has developed Scratch, a free block-based visual programming language, to help children learn code.

As of September, it has been used by over 58 million users and has registered almost 36 million monthly website visits.

Parents offer some explanations for this growing trend.

"We've noticed coding simple games has helped our nine year old to gradually identify and interpret visual information and strategise his next logical move, not unlike chess," says Goa-based techie Simran Krishna, whose son has been learning coding with WhiteHat Jr since April 2019.

"These classes have enabled him to understand the basic framework of simple algorithms and given him the ability to build on his ideas -- from simple games to interactive birthday cards -- from scratch."

Delhi-based Priti Verma notes that classes at Coding Zen have given her 15 year old the confidence his school couldn't provide.

"Parents like me have been looking for non-scholastic ways to help our children learn better and stay relevant -- coding classes really fit the bill," she says.

At the same time, there's a huge outcry on social media against private coding classes in India.

Exaggerated claims made in some of their advertising campaigns are largely to blame.

WhiteHat Jr's now infamous advertisement about investors falling over themselves to invest in little Chintu's app is among the ones that came in for much criticism.

Gurugram-based Camp K12 avers that children who code show an 83 per cent improvement in maths and logical reasoning. It does not mention how it has arrived at this figure.

Delhi-based Coding Zen quotes Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg on their home page, all agreeing on the benefits of learning coding.

None of them, however, has mentioned what age coding classes are most appropriate for.

More insidiously, some of the ads pander to parents' basest fears.

"During the pandemic, when job security has been at its lowest ebb, some private coding class providers seem have played on this anxiety," observes K Ganesh, serial entrepreneur and promoter of education, healthcare and other start-ups.

"Yet there's little evidence that coding classes do as they promise."

Some child psychologists fear that at age seven, children aren't developmentally ready to learn coding.

Dipannita Burman, educational consultant who has spent years as the special educator at Shri Ram School in Delhi, says increased screen time could lead to lowered attention spans.

"Once the pandemic is behind us and children return to schools," she says, "I fear that many will have trouble adjusting to conventional classrooms."

Parents who have bucked the coding class trend report feeling quite pressured.

Burman advocates that parents enroll their children into coding classes only as a leisure-time activity, that too with strict curbs on screen time.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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Geetanjali Krishna
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