Should school kids learn software coding?

Ayushi Kar Mumbai | Updated on November 06, 2020

Though there’s a burgeoning demand for such classes, some feel the increase in screentime and seclusion may affect children psychologically

Six-year-old Rishi is a brilliant and inquisitive child. At school, he was asked to be put in a higher grade because his teachers believed that the pace of his first-grade curriculum was not able to match with his astute thinking.

Recheshwari, (Rishi’s mother) however, had other plans, “We wanted him to enjoy his childhood and his time with his peers. So we were looking for something, which challenges him. That is when we came across the coding classes provided by Whitehat Jr., and these have been an extremely intellectually rewarding activity for him”.

Rishi has developed apps such as “Covid Help Bangaloreans” with information on testing and treatment available in Bangalore for COVID-19 incorporated into the application using real-life data. The idea popped up when Rishi observed that somebody had tested positive in his apartment block. “He tries to use coding to find a solution for every problem. For instance, he created a medicine reminder app for the medicine I take every morning since I kept forgetting,” says Rishi's mother.

WhiteHat Jr. is one of the many ed-tech start-ups which has capitalised on this new burgeoning demand for learning coding. “Kids today are surrounded by technology,” says WhiteHat CEO Karan Bajaj... “My goal is to convert them from passive consumers of technologies to builders and creators in their own right”.

And creating they are indeed, 13-year-old Abhinav is channelling his love for gaming and physics into a game that he built called “Go Corona Go!”, using insights he learnt from his coding classes at WhiteHat. Ed-tech start-ups such as WhiteHat or Captain Coder (formerly knowns as Code Ninjas Junior) lay claim to many such inspirational young alumni that are creatively using technology to solve day to day problems or channel their creativity one algorithm a time.

ALSO READ Kids should be technology creators, not consumers: White Hat Jr CEO

Views differ

However, are claims that these coding courses will develop high order thinking skills and the analytical ability to be able to solve every problem in a structured manner in every single child a tall order? Is this just one of the many educational courses/extracurricular activities that children take up outside the school?

The output first curriculum design makes some parents sceptical of the goals these start-ups are setting out to achieve. “In the classes that I enrolled my son in for multiple ed-tech companies..the approach of teaching from a perspective of completing a project was given importance, instead of the logic behind the syntax” observes Bala Ganesh an IT professional himself and a father of an 8-year-old.

For WhiteHat CEO Karan, it is important to achieve a deep psychological feeling in every child that he is a builder or creator to allow children to be confident enough to take on problems of the world, “The curriculum design is a combination of two things- with the earlier classes focusing heavily on kids building output so that they fall in love with coding- and later on we move onto the understanding of the syntax and more complex languages such as Python or Javascript...after generating interest.”

For Captain Coder too, “the aim of the curriculum is to generate interests and creativity into regular subjects of Math and Science by incorporating those concepts into our course design” says Ankush Singla, Co-Founder of Captain Coder.

Logical skills

However, for many, coding is not the sole way to inculcate logical and analytical thinking skills into a child. “It is important to concentrate on the foundation first,” says Bala Ganesh. “Basics of logic can be taught without any tools, basic thinking skills- which I consider equivalent to coding can be instilled through activities like Chess where the child has to break down a problem in a structured manner and think ahead”.

Karan Bajaj insists this does not mean that there is no room for coding in the endeavour to create an environment that fosters the maximum intellectual potential for these children. “It doesn’t have to be one or the other — we are a coding start-up that does one thing well, and we do believe that there is room for other people to take on other activities to teach kids should they choose to do so.”

Increasing screen time

What about the concerns regarding children spending too much time in front of the screen that erodes away at the time that was normally dedicated to traditional activities of childhood? Especially given that normal playtime and fun can teach valuable lessons of socialisation and empathy. Alpana Ahuja, a mathematics teacher at Sardar Patel, isn’t too concerned. “ It is true that children are becoming secluded these days..deeply involved in technology or their individual extra-curricular, but coding lessons are not going to exacerbate this problem since it is happening anyway. As parents and as educators we need to be cognizant of the fact that we let kids be kids and ensure that their childhood is preserved”.

Despite his scepticism that the curricula design for coding offered by ed-tech companies in its present form can fulfil the needs of his child, Bala Ganesh still believes it is important that his son is exposed to programming. Which is why presently, his friend, another IT professional, is teaching his son to code. Bala cannot emphasise enough, the importance of finding the right teacher for his son “that is what I prioritise over the reputation of the organisation when I choose to enrol into for his coding classes.”

Digital literacy

For Ankush Singla, Co-Founder of Captain Coder, finding highly qualified teachers to fulfil the growing demand has been a challenge as well “We only recruit extremely qualified teachers.”

With the digital economy blossoming, many countries such as Singapore, UAE, Israel have jumped on the bandwagon of ensuring that children even at elementary school age are digitally literate. They hope, that this will allow them to create a workforce that is much more suited for the transforming times.

A recent OECD report regarding the impact of digital technology and skills on education, also found that technology-supported education can widen the student, and the teachers learning opportunities and also vastly improve test scores. This appears to be in synchrony with the thesis statement of many ed-tech start-ups that argue that the cognitive benefits bestowed upon the child from coding will apply to other subjects and projects as well.

The jury is out on whether what the market in courses to teach young kids to code is truly beneficial for the child. Bala continues to remain optimistic that the market will eventually begin to cater to his requirements as parents slowly start to provide feedback on the curriculum design provided in the mainstream. Karan cannot agree more “When we are building a new category, there is so much experimentation that goes into it..we are constantly taking feedback to make our product even better.”

The writer is interning with Business Line's Mumbai Bureau

Published on November 06, 2020

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